Nine years ago today, Lahainaluna High School graduate and Master Sgt. Kelly Bolor died when two helicopters collided in northern Iraq.
His Nov. 15, 2003, death made him the first soldier born on Maui to be killed in the Iraq war.
Despite the time that has passed, friends and fellow U.S. Army Reservists haven't forgotten "Kelly Boy," whom they said would lift their spirits in battle and was an excellent leader in the Reserve.
Volunteers and U.S Army Reservists constructed “Camp Bolor” earlier this month in Whittier Narrows Park in South El Monte, Calif. The temporary camp to help feed and house homeless veterans was named after Lahainaluna High School graduate and Master Sgt. Kelly Bolor, who died Nov. 15, 2003, in Iraq.
Sgt. Joel Leal (left), one of the organizers for “Heroes in the Shadows” second annual San Gabriel Valley Homeless Veterans Stand Down event in California earlier this month, talks to others at the event. Leal said they named part the homeless camp event after Master Sgt. Kelly Bolor, a Lahainaluna graduate who died nine years ago in Iraq. Leal said Bolor was his “best friend.”
Earlier this month, former colleagues and reservists erected "Camp Bolor," a temporary tent city at Whittier Narrows Park in South El Monte, Calif., for a homeless veterans assistance weekend. Bolor's immediate family still lives in Whittier, where he had bought a house before he died.
The event also honored Staff Sgt. Brian Abuel, who died from injuries sustained in Iraq and also is from the area.
"Master Sergeant Kelly Bolor was my best friend," said Sgt. Joel Leal, one of the organizers for the "Heroes in the Shadows" second annual San Gabriel Valley Homeless Veterans Stand Down.
The event provided education and care in an attempt to end veteran homelessness and was put on by volunteers with donations from businesses, municipalities and schools. Vet Hunters, a nonprofit organization that assists homeless veterans year round, also was involved with the Stand Down event.
Leal said he and other comrades and those from Vet Hunters wanted to honor Bolor and to let his wife, Kelly Jean "Kelly Girl," who still lives in the area, know that they still remember her husband.
"We wanted to show her we haven't forgotten his sacrifice for this country even though her husband is pulling guard duty in heaven," Leal said.
Bolor, 37, was killed when two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters collided, killing 17 people in northern Iraq.
He was with the Army Reserve's 137th Quartermaster Company based in South El Monte.
He was born in Wailuku and attended Lahainaluna. He worked for the public works department in Los Angeles County before being called into active duty.
Bolor's family didn't immediately respond to requests for an interview. They are still "media shy," said a family member.
While on the phone last week en route with others from Vet Hunters to downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, home to thousands of homeless men and women, Leal recalled fond memories of Bolor during their time in Iraq.
He said that Bolor would help ease their nerves as Scud missiles could be heard flying overhead.
"He would pull out his ukulele and sing to us. He would calm us down," Leal said. "He was such an outstanding leader. He would do everything he could; he would build you up."
The homeless veterans event included meals, a place to stay, medical screenings, mental health education and resources for veterans. About 800 veterans were served.
"We believe that there should be no homeless veterans period," Leal said. "We created Camp Bolor, and we named it in memory of him. It's an insult to his service and our services that we have homeless vets," Leal said.
He added that he wasn't blaming anyone for the homeless situation but said it was good to turn those negative feelings into positive ones to help prevent and to end homelessness for veterans.
Leal said Vet Hunters has received inquiries from Hawaii to bring the program across the Pacific. He added that the organization is not funded by the government and relies on volunteers and donations. For more information see vethunters.org or visit them on Facebook.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.