My daughter, Kirsten Fedewa, tells this story:
Recently, I was honored to escort a World War II veteran named Fame Academia on the final day of the 2016 Republican Convention. His desire was to attend the Republican National Convention and to meet House Speaker Paul Ryan. Fame is 90 years old. He is small in stature but huge in spirit.
Fame and I met by chance on a flight from Washington to Cleveland on the last day of the Convention. He was by himself, impeccably dressed in his white uniform, taking a flight to a strange city without a hotel reservation or even a ticket to the Convention.
Sitting together on our flight, he began to tell me his story. I decided to take him under my wing, escorting him throughout the day and evening, securing a pass through the kindness of Bob Wood and the Wisconsin delegation, aided and abetted by former Governor #Haley Barbour’s staff.
His story was one of the most compelling that I have ever heard — involving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the simultaneous invasion of the Philippines. Having heard first-hand testimony from my friend, the late General Jim Hall, I was familiar with the atrocities of the Pacific arena but I was not prepared for this.
Fame’s father was the mayor of a small Filipino village when the war started.. His mother died in child birth and he was the youngest of nine children. Throughout the war, his father helped several American pilots who had escaped the brutality of the Japanese evade capture by hiding in his orchard. One time, Fame’s father hid him, as a small child, from the Japanese invaders in a Catholic church, in a little wooden box on the altar
One of the pilots was re-captured and tortured in front of the villagers. Throughout the beatings, this American pilot showed tremendous courage. Like something out of the movies, he smiled at the village kids and flashed the V-for-Victory sign (which the Japanese did not understand). Later he was hauled off in a pick-up and taken away. That pilot’s cool-headedness and kindness was something that the seven-year old boy - now a 90-year old man — never forgot. He never found out what happened to this brave American.
For their crime of hiding pilots, Fame, his father and family - and other members of the village were rounded up and herded into their church, with the doors locked, and a fire was started. They were saved from certain death at the last minute by the supervising officer who changed his mind and decided not to kill everyone. Despite this horror and others, the village continued to hide escaped American pilots and at least one got away.
Fame later sought refuge at the American naval base to avoid starvation, lied about his age, and joined the Merchant Marines. Eventually he joined the U.S. Navy and earned a chest full of medals in Korea and Vietnam. To my surprise, his family has never heard these stories which he kept buried in his heart and head until sharing them with me. Once home, he started to tell his extended American family the stories of his past. It was a remarkable day, one I will never forget.
We came very close to achieving his goal of meeting Speaker Paul Ryan. I know Paul and his staff and I tried for several hours but it wasn’t meant to be. Nevertheless, Fame Academia received a hero’s welcome among the hundreds of people who took his photo and were moved by his presence and story (as related in cliff notes by me.) He was also on the local CBS affiliate and his photo was tweeted on the Convention screen during the program. Everywhere we went, he was treated with great respect, and he responded with a simple dignity that brought a lump to the throat, as when he met and posed for a picture with the Governor of Mississippi and many other dignitaries. . Fame never did get to meet his hero and my friend, Speaker Paul Ryan, but maybe that will happen another day
I tried to get him into my hotel but it was jam packed and there were no exceptions. I called the hotel that someone had researched for him and they had rooms (but no reservation) and I finally put him into a cab at about 1 am with directions to the driver to take him there. Then he was gone. So that ended a remarkable day for both of us
I am so glad to have met him and I appreciated the opportunity to provide him with a memorable time. He was a real inspiration to so many people in his Navy uniform. People from all walks of life greeted him with warmth and said things like, “My father served in Korea” or “That’s a sailor with a chest full of medals” etc.
What he has been through in his life had earned a hero’s welcome and he received one. I personally am proud to have returned the favor a little bit for someone whose family helped American GIs — including captured pilots - in World War II and who has served our country with loyalty and pride
As Kirsten’s father, I told her, “Kindness is sometimes rewarded in astonishing ways, sometimes not. But a kind heart is a gift from God.”