In 18 days, more than $26,000 was raised for the memorial service of BYU–Hawaii alumnus and United States Army Aviator Kirk Takeshi Fuchigami. These donations were made through Facebook by 552 people and counting.
Tragedy struck on Nov. 20 when Chief Warrant Officer Fuchigami and fellow pilot David C. Knadle were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Fuchigami, from Keaau on the Big Island, attended BYUH before joining the Army and was married to McKenzie Norman, his wife of eight months.
According to the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes, Fuchigami, 25, and his co-pilot Knadle, were Apache helicopter pilots assigned to the 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
Several of Fuchigami’s close friends and acquaintances during his time at BYUH expressed their sadness about his death, saying he was a kind man who died too soon.
Morgyn Morris, an alumna from Michigan who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, was a friend of Fuchigami after he left school to become an Army Aviator.
Morris noted how the donations of over $26,000 raised for Fuchigami’s family and his memorial services are a testament to the kind of man he was. “It shows just how much Takeshi was loved.
“He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back. He was quiet, down-to-earth, and purposeful in his actions. He was just a wonderful person. The world got a little bit darker when he died. The courage of his wife in the face of this trial is just amazing.
“He gave a very uplifting talk in church,” she added, “and out of all the single [adults] in the ward, he was the sharpest-looking guy there. I also remember he wrote with a fountain pen when I met him.”
At the time they were friends, Fuchigami was working as a loader at Ace Hardware and taught Morris how to fish in the Hawaii style. Additionally, he was a lover of military movies, notably “Top Gun,” which they watched seven times in one month.
Prince Owusu, an alumnus from Ghana who graduated in June 2019 with a bachelor’s in political science, was Fuchigami’s unit mate in 2015. As a freshman from Ghana, Owusu said his early morning English classes would not have been enjoyable without him.
“He was the person I turned to for advice when college life was tough at the time. He’d sacrifice some of his time to go over my English assignment with me when I wasn’t sure about it.
“Despite his busy schedule as a student, he’d make time to visit the Cafeteria with me. In return, I’d go fishing with him at night. Although I couldn’t swim, he’d simply say ‘Prince, my Ghana brother, just sit here and wait till I come back.’
“He’d usually say that with a simple cheeky smile. In a simple statement, I’d say anyone who came in contact with him will probably be able to tell you he put people first in everything he did.”
Ben Papeo, an alumnus from Italy who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s in psychology, is a former coworker of Fuchigami. He said he had two experiences with Fuchigami that he could remember vividly.
Both he and Fuchigami shared a passion for martial arts and practiced aikido and wushu. “On one occasion, we performed and taught a self-defense class for FHE. I still have great memories about it. He was very humble, active in the gospel, and willing to serve.”
In another instance, Papeo remembered seeing Fuchigami come back home in severe physical pain. He asked Papeo for a blessing. “After the blessing, I realized that he had been bitten by a centipede in our front yard while walking with slippers on, and he didn’t take painkillers as he had a medical examination for the military the next day.”
Joseph Duano, an alumnus from Virginia who graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, worked with Fuchigami at Food Services. “He worked for the BYUH Cafeteria and I worked at the Seasider snack bar as a supervisor, but he was assigned to cook stir-fry inside Seasider.”
Duano said the two were not necessarily close friends, and just interacted around school and at work. He said they both had some fun moments.
“Since he was always surrounded by grandmas working stir fry with him, he’d always come around me when he wasn’t busy and help out with some of the things I was doing. He was a kind guy. There was one time I couldn’t reach the ice dispenser at the Seasider, so he crouched down and offered to boost me up so I could reach the ice dispenser. That was probably in 2016.”
At the time, Duano said Fuchigami did not seem to know what he wanted to do in life and was looking for a place to fit in. “He was into martial arts and would show me videos of him doing martial arts around campus.”
Despite not knowing him incredibly well, Duano said he was shocked to hear of Fuchigami’s passing. “You never expect anybody you know to pass away, especially if they’re the same age.”