Friends say Sione Lefao’s cheerful disposition put others at ease.
"His smile just made things better. It’s brightened up people’s day," said Finesi Taimasa.
Lefao, 22, a cadet of the University of Hawaii-Manoa Army ROTC program, died over the weekend after being overcome by a rogue wave at the Mokulua Islands.
Program staff and fellow cadets held a gathering on campus yesterday in remembrance of Lefao. "He’s extremely hard-working. He’s definitely one of our best cadets," said Capt. Jesus Cruz, assistant professor of military science and enrollment officer.
Lefao was kayaking Saturday afternoon with a group of friends from his dorm that made it to the Mokulua Islands off Lanikai Beach in Kailua. Honolulu Fire Capt. Robert Main had said they were resting on the rocks when a rogue wave swept Lefao and a friend into the water.
His friend made it back to the island. Friends searched for Lefao without success. Fire rescue and the Coast Guard conducted a search. Fire rescue found Lefao’s body Sunday in the ocean outside of the Mokulua Islands.
Taimasa said Lefao had called some of his fellow cadets Saturday to see whether they wanted to go kayaking, but they declined because of the rainy weather.
Friends described Lefao as an outgoing person with a great sense of humor. He enjoyed hiking in Koko Head and Makapuu. Friends also described him as a good boxer. Taimasa said he and Lefao made plans to go boxing this weekend. "I still can’t believe he’s gone," Taimasa said.
Lefao was born and raised in Nuuli, a village in American Samoa. He was a cadet with the American Samoa Community College Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Program before transferring to UH last fall. Lefao also was a soldier in the 100th Infantry Battalion.
He spent most of his time with a group of fellow cadets who also were from American Samoa, having barbecues, heading to the beach and going to the movies. With his family in American Samoa, his fellow cadets became his second family while in Hawaii.
"He had a contagious smile," said Maj. James Barros of the ROTC program, who headed to Lanikai soon after he heard Lefao was missing. Lefao was a humble young man and a team player, Barros said.
Lefao also was someone who could always be depended on. "He was very reliable. If you needed him for anything, he would be there for you," Cruz said.