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    Coast Guard honors Molokai veteran on Maui for heroic action in 1952

    Coast Guard Station Maui stands with Lani

    Photo By Senior Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir | The crew of Station Maui and extended Coast Guard family stand with Mitchell Lani for...... read more read more

    KIHEI, Hawaii — The Coast Guard presented Mitchell P. Lani with a Coast Guard Commendation Medal at a ceremony in Maui, Monday during an observance of Veterans Day.

    Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Leah Belmonte on behalf of Gov. David Ige, Rebecca Crall on behalf of State Rep. Lynn DeCoite, recognized him with additional certificates among family, friends and extended Coast Guard family.

    “In the last 66 years, we modernized our platforms, our missions continue, and the importance of commerce has only grown. While the Coast Guard has changed since 1952, the outstanding character of our people is steadfast. How we treat our people is critical to our success and future, and that is why we gather here today. To pay our respects, and honor a man who went above and beyond for his shipmates and his country — Mitchell P. Lani,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander Coast Guard 14th District.

    Mitchell, 89, originally from Molokai was a petty officer assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Forster (WDE 434) in 1952 during the Korean War. He was the officers’ cook aboard the cutter while serving on ocean station duty off Honolulu. It was May, and the ship's crew was conducting a gunnery exercise under the direction of the U.S. Navy. While firing at a target drone towed by a Navy aircraft, the pilot aborted, releasing the cable and drone in the ocean.

    Tasked with recovering it, the ship came too close, and the cable went under the hull. With the engines secured, the ship adrift, and concerned with the potential damage to the propeller and drive shaft, the commanding officer, called for Mitchell to investigate the cable and determine its status.

    “The sea conditions were rough, 8 to 12 foot swells, strong current and it was overcast making it difficult to see,” said Lani. “There were sharks. The captain, he asked me to dive under the ship, and I had nothing by the clothes on my back and my Hawaiian goggles. I was honored to do this and to give my life for the ship. I was the only one who went into the water, over 100 men on deck and none of them volunteered.”

    This dive was a dangerous undertaking, one his supervisors advised against. It was about half past three in the afternoon when Mitchell dove 35 to 40 feet under the ship and confirmed the worst; the cable could be seen severely twisted around the shaft and both propellers. Having done his duty, and expecting professional divers or a tug to be called from Pearl Harbor to respond, he reported back. However, the captain then asked the seemingly impossible of him - could he untangle the cable?

    Concerned for the safety of the Forster and his shipmates, Mitchell took on the challenge. It was now close to half past four. All told, he made six dives to free the cable. To put it in perspective, the Forster was an Edsall-class destroyer escort, 306 feet long and nearly 1,600 tons under full load. Mitchell was thrashed against the hull of this massive vessel for hours as he worked to free the cable in the swells.

    “The skin of the ship is slick, like a wall, there’s nothing to grab. I had to hold onto the cable and keep from getting my hands caught. The ship came down on me over and over, but I didn’t quit. I was raised Hawaiian, and a true Hawaiian will never say no, he’ll say I’ll try.”

    As darkness descended and the sharks continued to circle the cable came free. Mitchell swam with difficulty and fatigue to the ship’s Jacob’s ladder. As he ascended, a wave smashed him against the ship, causing severe injury. He kept climbing, hauled the end of the cable on deck and handed it over to Ensign Lucas so the rest could be brought up.

    Mitchell reported his injuries and saw the ship’s doctor. With no broken bones or visible lacerations, the ship’s doctor could do little for Mitchell, and upon reaching Pearl Harbor and Sand Island, there was no referral for further medical care. This is one area where the service has improved; military medicine has advanced to recognize invisible wounds — muscular skeletal injuries and the impact of traumatic experiences. Instead of any treatment at that time, Mitchell was released on 20 days leave. That was the last it was spoken.

    “In today’s Coast Guard. I am proud to say that today such incidents are reported immediately, and failure to do so should result in relief of command,” said Lunday. “Moreover, we would not ask an untrained and unequipped crew member to attempt what Mitchell did alone. This action and the failure to credit Mitchell caused a great deal of pain and difficulty for him and his family in the decades since his service. I’m honored to be here to put this right today.”

    The award received lengthy consideration. The Coast Guard’s standard practice is to reward significant action within months and sustained performance within three years. Because this action took place more than 60 years ago, it was necessary to investigate the event.

    “After reading the resulting summary, I had no reservations about signing this award. However, our protocol and policy require any award given outside of the three-year window to be voted on and approved by a panel of no less than 12 people at Coast Guard Headquarters. I am happy to say that not only did the vote came back — unanimous, but also the commandant of the Coast Guard reviewed this particular decision. Mitchell’s story will spread throughout our service and serve as an example of how far we’ve come and how important our duty to our people indeed is. I stand before you today to say Mitchell was ready, what he did was relevant and we can all still learn from it today,” said Lunday. “ His actions are the essence of responsive and his mission was a success. He served with honor before most of those currently enlisted were born. He's gone on to raise a beautiful family who has helped him through this and contributed to his community. He is a credit to the U.S. Coast Guard and the nation.”

    Mitchell P. Lani is a son of Molokai, a humble fisherman, a father, a brother, a husband and a Coast Guardsman. He served his country and his shipmates with honor, respect, and devotion to duty long before the words embodied the Coast Guard core values. He also represents the warrior spirit and the spirit of Aloha.



    Date Taken: 11.12.2018
    Date Posted: 11.13.2018 03:46
    Story ID: 299621
    Location: KIHEI, HI, US 

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