Nine months ago, McKenzie Norman Fuchigami and Kirk Fuchigami were getting ready to spend the rest of their lives together.
Norman, from Corinne, and Fuchigami, from Hawaii, were both 25 years old and married in March. The newlyweds made their home in Fort Hood, Texas, where Fuchigama was based as a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army.
Everything changed on Wednesday, Nov. 20, when Fuchigami and a co-pilot, 33-year old David C. Knadle, died when their Apache helicopter crashed while providing ground support for security forces during a night raid in the Logar province of eastern Afghanistan. Both had achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 2, and both were experienced and decorated pilots.
Last week, McKenzie Fuchigami returned home to make preparations for the burial of her husband and be with family. Her hometown has poured its collective heart out to welcome her back and comfort her, lining 2400 North out toward her parents’ home in West Corinne with yellow ribbons and American flags in honor of the sacrifice made by her young husband, herself, and their families.
“He was and is a strong, courageous soldier and loyal husband,” McKenzie wrote on her Facebook page after receiving the tragic news. “Eight months of marriage with him was the best months of my life. He taught me so much about love and respect. I’m blessed to have been loved by him so fiercely.”
Her grandmother, Elaine Norman, said she hadn’t been able to spend a lot of time with Kirk, who friends and family knew by his middle name, Takeshi. Norman recalled one day when Takeshi was flying with a group and stopped at the Brigham City airport to refuel. There was a problem restarting the helicopter, so she and other family members got to spend a day with Takeshi that they otherwise wouldn’t have had due to his busy schedule.
“We learned to love him very quickly,” she said. “He was just a great guy.”
Kurtis Edelman, a military veteran and resident of Corinne, got wind of Takeshi’s death in the line of duty and immediately sprang into action, mobilizing the town to put up a display that included 60 large flags spaced evenly along a one-mile stretch of 2400 North leading to the Norman family home. Dozens more smaller flags filled the family’s yard, and homes all along the way had their own displays of yellow ribbons and flags.
“It was quite a lot of work,” Norman said. “A lot of people pitched in.”
While Takeshi was from Hawaii, plans were made for him to be buried in Utah at the Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park at Camp Williams in Bluffdale, so his wife could visit him often without having to travel too far. As it does with all deaths in the line of duty, the Army was conducting an investigation into the incident before releasing Takeshi’s body for the funeral service.
Following the crash, the Taliban said it had shot the helicopter down, but the Army rebuked that claim, clarifying that it was due to a technical problem with the aircraft.
Both soldiers were Apache helicopter pilots assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, and had become close friends over the course of their service.
Lt. Col. Adam Camarano, the soldiers’ battalion commander, said in a statement that Fuchigami and Knadle “will always be remembered as a part of the heroic legacy of the 1st Cavalry Division.”
Knadle and Fuchigami had both been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and both deployed to Afghanistan in October. With their passing, there have now been 19 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2019, the deadliest year for American troops in the country since international combat operations ended in late 2014.
Family members started a Facebook fundraiser to help McKenzie going forward, and the Takeshi Fuchigami Memorial Fund had raised over $25,000 from more than 540 donors as of the end of November. Donations are still being accepted at https://www.facebook.com/donate/711074532717349/10216295399597139/
The people of Corinne and members of the Norman family, along with everyone else who knew Takeshi, didn’t have as much time as they would have liked with him. But they have rallied around one of their native daughters in her time of grief, as best as they know how.
“I just really, truly love him as a grandson-in-law and as a husband to McKenzie,” Elaine Norman said. “He made her very, very happy.”