My War Story

This is another installment in our Lessons from War project, in which Jan C. Scruggs interviews prominent Americans about their experiences during the Vietnam War.

Allan Hoe was born in Hawaii and his ancestors go back to ancient Hawaii. He was a combat medic in Vietnam with the Americal Division. He was wounded and received the Bronze Star during his tour in 1968. As an attorney, and in life, he has been very successful. He is an accomplished surfer and motocross driver, but now puts his energy into the Honolulu Polo Club, where he is president.Tragedy entered his life in 2005 when his son Nainoa was killed in action near Mosul, Iraq.  

Q: What made you decide to be a combatant in Vietnam?

A: I actually had to submit two 1049 request for transfer forms to go to Vietnam in the fall of 1967; the first one was tossed by my first sergeant who had just returned from there, he told me “are you nuts, why would you want to go there as a medic?” I shared my family warrior history with him and simply said, I did not want to spend the rest of my life, wondering how I would have done. It was something I felt I needed to do for myself, to know that I could do it. It never crossed my mind that there were risks, I knew I would survive. First Sgt. Jackson, said ok, resubmit the 1049 and I will process it. I did so and within 20 days I was on my way.

Q: What made your two sons decide to join the military?

A: The easy answer is simply, they are my sons, they grew up hearing the stories of what it took to be a combat warrior in Vietnam; they are outdoorsmen, very physical, love a challenge and incredible patriots. For both of them, there is no other option in the Army beside infantry. Both excelled at it, airborne, infantry and for my son Nainoa, Ranger.

Q: Your son was killed in Iraq in 2005, can you tell us about what happened?

Allen Hoe and his son Nainoa on March 14, 2004 as Nainoa earned his Ranger badge at Fort Benning.

A: It was in January 2005 as the Iraqi people were getting prepared for their first national election. The city of Mosul was totally in flames, when my son 1st Lt. Nainoa Hoe volunteered to take his platoon out on a second patrol, to cover for another platoon leader who was new in country and was not quite prepared for a patrol in one of the hot spots in the city. The 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3/21 Infantry of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, had done their mission for the day, when Nainoa learned that there was one mission still unfinished. So as he always did, he was up front in the lead element approaching their objective. They were ambushed and he was shot by a professional sniper, resulting in an immediate gun battle with a well organized group of insurgents. It was a “golden bullet” which caught him in the crease of his upper left body armor, through his heart and out the other side. He did not have a chance. Those of us who have experienced the chaos of a gun battle know the reality of something like that, an inch one way or the other and the result would have been totally different.

Q: You have been a very successful attorney and spent some time as a judge. Give some career advice for the youngsters getting out of the military who want to succeed like you.

A: I believe the thing that helped me the most was realizing that we must take charge of our own destiny, if you will. In Vietnam, there were days and circumstance which I thought were absolutely horrific, that I had experienced or seen the worst that life had to offer, until I would meet someone or hear of a set of circumstances which made my experience seem like a walk in the park. I realized that the best way to survive as they say, was simply to make lemonade of the lemons life dealt me.

I look back on my experience as a “young” soldier and I am grateful, for it grounded me in terms of what I needed to do to be able to succeed in facing all of life’s challenges. Education was always something important to me, but my brief life as a soldier pointed out how significant a role it would play in my future, thus I returned to college, first at the community college level to get reoriented if you will on the routine of studying.

The Army taught me the value of striving for the best and working your butt of to succeed.

Q: Horse polo is an amazing thing to see. How long has the sport been in Hawaii?

Hawaii has an incredible legacy of the sport of polo. It was first introduced here in the early 1880’s by British naval officers who were stationed here following their service in India, where they picked up the sport. It is in my opinion the closest activity to combat, in the way that it forces one to totally focus upon the game and the team aspect of play. It was traditionally used by all armies to train its cavalry troops the military skills of situational awareness so critical on the battle field. But most of all it is an incredible sport in partnership with the amazing athletes of the horses.

Q: Your middle name is Kaleiolani. The middle names of your sons are Kealiihokuhelelani and Kealiimakanihoolua. Can you tell us what these names mean?  

My native Hawaii culture values the connection of nature, its phenomenon as it relates to the birth of a young child, my middle names was chosen by my grandmother as my being a special gift from the heavens. My son Nainoa was born upon a full moon, thus ‘hokuhelelani’ is the chiefly moon that travels the heavens; the day he was killed was also a full moon, thus for him it was a complete cycle of life. My son Nakoa was born the night when winter changed to spring, with the coming of the new season, thus ‘makanihoolua’ acknowledges the arrival of the winds of spring.

Q: What impact do you think the Education Center at The Wall will have on visitors?

A: The Wall has had such a huge impact upon our culture and society. It is an amazing experience each time I visit there to see the many people who visit wanting to have a personal experience to connect them to the warrior heroes whose names are carved in granite. Especially now since, what is it half of all Americans alive today were born after the Vietnam war, that fact is mind boggling to me.The Center will provide each visitor with a very special link to those heroes, especially the individual whose dog tag they will be entrusted with as they experience the Vietnam War within the Center.