Mareko Milo believed his son's chances weren't good.
Few people on the small Polynesian islands of American Samoa, a United States territory roughly the size of Long Beach, know how many of the nearly 58,000 residents have gone to fight in Iraq.
But everyone knows how many have died: There have been 16 funerals since the war began in 2003, eight of those since January.
This year's seventh funeral was for Avealalo Milo.
The 23-year-old Army specialist and former resident of Hayward, Calif., was killed Oct. 4 when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire in Baghdad.
He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Vilseck, Germany.
"Any time that I sit alone by myself and think back at the relationship I had between him and myself, when that happens, I start feeling tears in my eyes," Mareko Milo said. "We feel the sorrow, we feel the sadness, and we've never felt that before."
In addition to his father, Milo is survived by his mother, Folola; and four siblings.
In American Samoa, many young people end up working in the bustling tuna industry, but Avealalo Milo dreamed of something different.
"He wanted to offer his life for any possible task that might be useful," his father said.
After graduating from Lepa High School in 2001, Milo, who always managed to make his father laugh even in the midst of arguments, made an announcement.
"He said he wanted to be a preacher," his father said.
Milo moved to Hayward, but did not become a preacher; three years later he found a new calling.
Milo's father recalled: "He gave me a call and said, 'I just took the Army exam.' I said, 'That's impossible, I don't want you to do that.' And he said, 'That's how I feel.' It was something that he wanted. So I said go ahead."
After three years in Northern California, and after marrying a co-worker at a Wal-Mart in Union City, Milo left to "fulfill his destiny," his father said.
" 'Dad, don't worry. It is something that I want,' " Mareko Milo remembered his son telling him. " 'I want to serve and die for it.' I said, 'Son, maybe that's what you want. But that's not what I want.' "
Ave, as his father called him, was never able to come home after he enlisted.
"I wish I was there when he was hurt, just to give him a hand," his father said. "But it's all right, it's just the world that we live in. I just wish someday the pain will go away from us."
Togiola Tulafono, the governor of American Samoa, whose daughter just returned from her second tour of duty in Iraq, said the territory's people are "like one big family." He added, "A loss to one family is a loss to everyone, and the pain is felt all across the family."
On the second Sunday of every month, the people gather in churches to pray for their sons and daughters in Iraq; they figure their children need all the prayers they can get.
"Parents here surely believe their son or daughter is not coming back," Mareko Milo said.
Added Tulafono, "Our people tend to look at the military as family. In a family, you do what it takes, and you don't complain about it."
As for Mareko Milo's remaining four children, "My two sons have said the mission my son Ave started, they will finish. I don't know exactly what I'm going to tell them."
He believes their chances aren't good.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun