Iraqis will learn what real freedom is from Americans, says Kapa’a man with family in war

The Iraqi people don’t know what real freedom is, and once they experience it, they’ll understand what they’ve been missing, said a Kapa’a resident and U.S. Army veteran.

“I know they don’t know what freedom is, I’m sure they’ll understand once they’re liberated,” said Norvin Manuel, 49, who has both a son and brother fighting in the Persian Gulf.

“They don’t know. They don’t know what freedom feels like,” Manuel said of the Iraqi people.

A maintenance man with the state’s Housing & Community Development Corporation of Hawai’i, Manuel is from a large family of veterans, and has double the usual military parent’s worries.

His son is Kaua’i High School graduate Ryan Manuel, 22, a cryptographer aboard the USS Porter with a top-secret clearance who can’t even discuss with his father the nature of his work.

Brother Galen Manuel, also 22, a Waimea High School graduate, is one of several Kaua’i boys aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Both ships are in the Persian Gulf region.

His son’s duties also include being part of a VBSS team, which stands for Visit, Board, Search and Seizure, giving his father more to worry about as his son’s team boards and searches vessels, looking for oil being smuggled out of Iraq, or for other war-related contraband.

Galen Manuel is an interior communications specialist, in charge of maintaining electrical systems on the ship, including wiring, security cameras, telephones and other devices.

“I’m proud of those two boys. In a way, I’m worried about them,” said Norvin Manuel, who hasn’t spoken to either of them in over a month.

“All I could give them was words of encouragement, you know, to focus on whatever their mission is, whatever duties they’re going to have to do,” he said.

“But, right now, I’m the kind of person who’s concerned, because I was in the military,” and all his brothers were in the military, too.

He has two nephews currently in the military as well. Wesley Manuel is the son of Larry Manuel, and is a helicopter mechanic in the U.S. Army stationed in Korea. Shane Nakamoto, with the U.S. Air Force stationed in Wyoming, guards underground missile silos.

It is of little consolation to Norvin Manuel that his son and brother are aboard Navy vessels far from the most intense fighting in Iraq. “I still worry about them. You can’t tell what goes on in war.

“Especially with a person like Saddam Hussein, you don’t know what he’s going to do,” so nobody is really safe, even if they’re far out to sea, he said.

“Being on the ship, both of them, that doesn’t mean that they’re not in the middle of this war, too. Anything can happen, bombs or mines or missile attacks,” he said.

“Though I know they’re out in the ocean, it still might (happen).

“I’m equally worried about both of them. You know, we’ve got the same blood,” he added.

“That is constantly on my mind,” he said of the possibility that he or another parent will receive the dreaded call that their son or daughter has been killed in action.

While seeing anti-war protesters on Kaua’i bothers him, he defends their right of free expression, as it is just such freedoms that his brother and son are fighting for half a world away, he continued.

“This is America, and everybody speaks their own mind. It bothers me, in a way,” both as a veteran and as a father and brother of those on active duty in the gulf, he said.

“To me, to see anti- protesters, I’m totally against it, because they’re not supporting our troops over there,” he added.

He also expressed thanks to reporters and editors for producing stories of Kaua’i people in the war.

“I think this is one way we can really express ourselves, for our sons or daughters being over there, protecting our freedom. It’s the main thing,” Norvin Manuel said.

“That’s what this conflict is all about, guarding our freedom, and getting people over there” to understand what true freedom feels like, he added.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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