Bruce Perdue was a man who believed in the message “Smile be nice” and he lived this belief every day. That’s how friends and family remember him.
“He was the kind of person who would let his actions speak more than his word,” said his father, Robert Perdue. “He was humble.”
Perdue died in traffic accident on May 21, 2012, on Kauai. To honor his son, Perdue and his friend, Kanoa Chung, turned one of Bruce’s mantras into a logo which Perdue and his wife are selling on shirts and hats.
“It was a way to remember him and how he lived his life,” Robert Perdue said. “I miss him like crazy. When I wear a hat and shirt and I see other people with it on, it reminds me of him. It puts a smile on my face.”
Perdue’s products may be purchased at Kapaa Art Night on the first Saturday of the month, and at the Kilauea Art Night on the last Saturday of the month. They are selling hats, shirts and hoodies and giving away bumper stickers. Each product is emblazoned “Smile, be nice.”
“If you told him you loved him, he’d be walking out the door, he’d have this little kid voice and say “love you,” Robert Perdue said. “Last time I saw him, I asked, “Can you come help me?” and he was there … I always knew I could count on him.”
Bruce Perdue was born on April 22, 1989, in Mexico and later moved to Kauai with his mother, Goretti Perdue, where he lived with both parents. He worked at Kintaro’s in high school and at Duke’s. He also was a member of the National Guard.
“He always wanted to be at the top of his National Guard’s unit,” said Robert Perdue. “He would lift weights. He would go running. He was very into his health.”
Bruce Perdue also enjoyed traveling and visited his birth country of Mexico.
“He went to Bali with his friends and he also went snowboarding up in British Columbia,” said Robert Perdue. “He would get his points from his credit card and go traveling with it. He was always thinking about how to use his money, how to do this, how to do that. He was a very together guy.”
One of his passions was surfing with his friend Sam Martin. Both grew up in Kilauea.
“We were really good friends in that I was kind of an older guy in a small town and we would meet up and go surf,” Martin said.
Martin recalls his favorite time was when both surfers took on monster waves for the first time.
“We were at Hanalei Bay,” said Martin. “The waves were a one level surf, he paddled out and was probably the youngest guy surfing and he caught some amazing waves. When you accomplish something you’ve never done … you’re defying nature and gravity. Even if it’s 20 to 30 years from now, I’ll never forget it. It’s a moment I treasure.”
Martin said Perdue was humble and hard-working.
“He didn’t really flaunt his looks and his talent. He wasn’t chauvinistic,” Martin said. “A lot of his friends were super sad because he had opportunities to do more things. He was larger than life.”
Robert Perdue gave Martin one of his son’s surf boards as a birthday present.
“Robert told me that he (Bruce) would want me to surf the waves that he surfed,” said Martin. “It helps me, thinking that he’s protecting me.”
Many of Perdue’s friends signed and decorated one of Perdue’s surf boards, which is currently hanging in a tree at his favorite surfing spot, Kalihiwai.
Robert Perdue said he and his son shared a strong bond.
“My son wasn’t much of a talker but we would work all day together and at the end of the day we would talk about what was going on in his life, his aspirations,” Robert Perdue said.
He recalled the day he learned of his son’s death. Bruce Perdue was killed when his car slammed into a telephone pole in Wailua close to Coconut MarketPlace at 2:30 a.m.
“The police knocked on my door at 4:30 in the morning,” said Perdue. “In movies you see people … reacting and crying, but for me and my wife it didn’t even seem real. It took me a long time before I could cry.”
Over two years have passed since the accident and although Perdue has taken hospice classes to cope with his loss, the process has been difficult.
“I was in this class with this lady that lost her 100-year-old mother, and this other lady that lost her dad in his 60s and for me it was like, there was no comparison. I lost both my parents and that’s like a speed bump compared to losing your kid, ‘cause you never expect to lose your kid,” Perdue said. “The day of my son’s celebration of life I got up and I spoke and I had no problem, and then a year later I looked at what I read and I couldn’t even read it.”
He also took a program called “Grief Recovery.”
“I got the point about a year ago where I was like I didn’t want to be around people, I didn’t want to surf, I didn’t want to got to church. Then I was like, ‘No, I’ve got to do something about this,” Perdue said. “A friend of mine who lost his son told me about a lady here with a program called Grief Recovery. You go through back with people that you’ve lost in your life and you make a graph of what was good, what was bad, and then in the end you write them a letter and say goodbye to them, and that definitely helped me.”
Perdue continued to write about his son on Facebook and wrote many letters to him, as well. Thanks to the encouragement of his friends, he is planning on making those letters into a book.
He has a tattoo that reads,”Bruce, see you in heaven” across his arm and another that says “Bruce” across his chest.
“A lot of people call me Bruce and sometimes people get embarrassed,” said Perdue. “I say ‘Don’t feel embarrassed cause I know you’re still thinking about him.’”
Soldiers of Troop C of the 299th Cavalry will host a memorial competition Sunday in Bruce’s honor. Entitled “The Perdue Best Section Competition,” this event combines infantry scout war fighting skill with team work challenges. The winner of the competition will be recognized by name on the Perdue Challenge Trophy.
This event is the third Perdue Best Section Competition and is intended to share what Troop C is doing to keep Perdue’s memory alive.