KAILUA-KONA — A smile stretched across Edward “Eki” Robert Yandall’s face as friends and family stood and clapped for him while he descended steps into the pavilion at Kona Vista Recreation Center Sunday afternoon.
Yandall, dressed in his army uniform, thought he was there to speak to a community group for veterans about his 20 years in the military service. He soon learned the gathering was a ceremony to award him the Purple Heart, 50 years after an injury he suffered while serving in Vietnam.
“He’s a war hero,” said Susan Yandall, Eki’s daughter-in-law. “The criteria of the Purple Heart, he did it all.”
On Feb. 4, 1968, Eki ran from his tent to the center of the army camp where a large gong hung and beat it as long and loud as he could to alert the troops of incoming enemy attack. While running to his foxhole under fire, he fell over a spike and landed on his head.
Eki was later diagnosed with a neck fracture, an injury he would suffer from for the rest of his life.
On Sunday, 92-year-old Eki was presented a congressional award from the office of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and an honorary certificate from the Hawaii State Legislature from Sen. Michael Gabbard.
“The Purple Heart is not something small,” Sen. Gabbard told the crowd.
On behalf of the Hawaii State Legislature, Sen. Gabbard thanked Eki for his service during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam as well as a lifetime of dedication to the military.
“Today, 50 years belated, the nation, your family and friends salute you. Malo lava,” he said.
Since he was told to prepare a speech about his life in the military, Eki was ready to tell the crowd about his service. Originally from American Samoa, Eki forged his mom’s signature at age 16 in an attempt to enlist in the Samoan Marines.
His plans were thwarted when his mother found out.
In June of 1951, Eki enlisted in the U.S. Army and entered basic training in Hawaii. Eki was Operations Sergeant of the Transportation Battalion when he was injured.