HONOLULU (KHON2) — It was an unexpected discovery at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2591 in Missouri — a bag full of torn and damaged American flags meant for proper disposal, including an intact flag, dog tag and photo of Hawaii Army Reservist Sgt. Myla Maravillosa who died in 2005 during a mission in Iraq.
Retired Sergeant First Class Tim Swartz was at the VFW location when he was asked if he knew of a way to contact the family of Maravillosa. At the time he did not know Maravillosa was the first female soldier from Hawaii killed in Iraq.
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“They knew that it didn’t belong in that bag, it was still a good flag folded intact; so, I separated from all the damaged torn flags,” Swartz said.
Swartz has no idea how these items ended up thousands of miles away from Hawaii.
Maravillosa died on Christmas Eve of 2005 when a propelled grenade hit her vehicle; she was 24 years old.
“It became a mission to say, ‘Hey if this was something that the family accidentally got lost in a move or something, that we owe it to Myla to make sure that the family was aware of it that it was found,'” Swartz explained.
KHON2 News spoke with Maravillosa’s mother, Estelita Maravillosa, a day after her death.
KHON2 News was also there when then-Gov. Linda Lingle honored Maravillosa with the Hawaii Medal of Honor.
Maravillosa was a young woman of faith. Swartz said he connected with a friend of Maravillosa, a sister who belongs to the congregation Daughters of St. Paul. She volunteered at Pauline’s Books and Media store on Bishop Street and developed a deep friendship with the sisters.
A sister said Maravillosa was considering becoming a nun after her military service. A photo in Maravillosa’s honor still stands at the book store.
“From this research, wishing I had a chance to meet her, she just seemed like such an amazing person,” said Swartz.
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Swartz sent the photo, dog tag and American flag to a sister and close friend of Maravillosa who relocated to Boston. They believe the mother moved to the Philippines years ago, but also believe family members may still be in Hawaii.
The battalion Maravillosa belonged to has also joined the search, hoping to reunite these items with her family.