Former U.S. Rep. Mark Takai was remembered Wednesday as a “true Pacific warrior, a true patriot and a true statesman” at a ceremony renaming the Pacific Warfighting Center on Ford Island in his name.
Takai “lived a short but meaningful life — a life fully lived,” continued Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command. “He was a fighter, all the way to the end.”
Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District in 2014, Takai died July 20, 2016, at the age of 49 after battling pancreatic cancer. He also was a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith, which oversees the 34,000-square-foot Ford Island center, renamed it the K. Mark Takai Pacific Warfighting Center.
“Today he is missed by his colleagues in Congress, his battle buddies in the Army, his constituents in Hawaii and, of course, his family,” Harris told more than 150 in attendance. “And on a personal level, I also miss him. I miss his infectious enthusiasm, I miss his mastery of what’s really important, and his unwavering moral compass.”
Illinois U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a fellow Democrat and an Iraq War helicopter pilot wounded in action, sent a letter that was read Wednesday in which she said, “I’m sorry I was not able to make it to the ceremony, but I wanted to honor my dear friend, Congressman Mark Takai.”
Duckworth said the two met in 1988 as students at the University of Hawaii, where Takai was a champion swimmer; editor of Ka Leo, the campus newspaper; and student body president.
One of Takai’s greatest skills was his ability to get others to join his cause, and he was always looking out for those who were most vulnerable, Duckworth said.
“Mark never stopped looking for ways to take action to serve others, and he did so with such vibrancy and incredible spirit — and a hearty laugh I can still hear today,” Duckworth said.
The $48 million Warfighting Center, opened in 2010, is a high-tech command and control and simulation center for some of the approximately 20 annual exercises that Pacific Command runs, officials said. It’s also used for mission rehearsals and conferences.
During Rim of the Pacific exercises, U.S. Pacific Fleet moves in and replicates ship movement on a large map of Pearl Harbor on the floor and on big computer screens, said center Director David Parker.
Takai’s wife, Sami; his children, Matthew, 15, and Kaila, 14; his parents, Erik and Naomi Takai; and other relatives attended the ceremony, as did U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
State adjutant general Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan also attended, along with former adjutants retired Maj. Gens. Darryll D.M. Wong and Robert G.F. Lee.
“It is definitely Mark’s spirit — his aloha spirit — that we feel here today,” Sami Takai said during the ceremony. “It’s so very close to home for us, literally, as he represented the communities of Aiea and Pearl City, right there on the shores of Pearl Harbor, for 20 years as a state legislator.”
Ford Island also is special to Takai’s father, Erik, who worked for the Navy and was the chief engineer who led the design of the Ford Island bridge, Sami Takai said.
One of her husband’s proudest accomplishments as a state legislator was the establishment of the Hawaii Medal of Honor to honor the families of combat fallen with Hawaii ties, she said.
Throughout his public service career, she added, he was “very passionate” about supporting the military, their families and veterans. He “fought hard for an appointment to the House Armed Services Committee — it wasn’t just given to him,” Takai said.
She said his commitment to the military and his job as a congressman was so strong that even while undergoing treatment for cancer, he insisted on being at a 16-hour committee hearing over the National Defense Authorization Act.
Takai would watch for her husband on C-SPAN during roll-call votes and texted with him to see how he was holding up. She noticed he was still smiling while others on the committee looked exhausted, and he said he’d flash a shaka when the cameras were on him so his wife could take a picture of the TV screen.
Through it all, she said, “Mark could still smile and, after a 16-hour meeting, and in the midst of his cancer treatment, give us a shaka — a small sign that he was doing OK, and was really, truly enjoying being there.”