HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Melvin Tomita used to wear a hat that read “pono.”
It was a mantra that he brought to every aspect of his life, as a member of the military, a firefighter, and as a husband and a dad. “Pono, do the right thing,” said his youngest daughter, Roxsanne Ruff-Tomita.
“That’s my dad. That’s him.”
Tomita died in September after contracting COVID-19 at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo. The 87-year-old Bronze Star recipient was one of more than two dozen at the facility who died of the virus.
Tomita’s family told Civil Beat that he was at the home after suffering a stroke earlier in the year.
He’d tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times before coming down with a fever.
On Sept. 3, before testing positive, he had a Zoom visit with family members and prayed with them.
“We didn’t know it, but that was the last time we saw him,” Ruff-Tomita said.
Tomita was born on Maui, the oldest of four children. After graduating from Baldwin High and getting married, he worked selling and repairing typewriters and joined the Army National Guard in 1952.
He later transferred to the Army Reserves and was activated in May 1968 for the Vietnam War.
And so at 35, the father of four children, found himself shipped off to serve far away.
When he returned, he joined the fire department and retired from the Hawaii Kai station in 1991.
Ruff-Tomita told Civil Beat that her father wouldn’t talk about the war, but didn’t like loud noises and often had trouble sleeping.
Family members weren’t allowed in Tomita’s hospital room at the Hilo Medical Center, where he was taken after experiencing a hard time breathing.
But Ruff-Tomita said she was able to stand outside her father’s unit in the ER, watching him through a window. She texted the nurse messages for her father to hear.
“My dad kept calling to me,” Ruff-Tomita told Civil Beat.
She asked the nurse to tell him, “Daddy, go home. It’s OK, you can go home.”