A memorial service was held Wednesday night for one of the five men killed in a fireworks explosion in a Waikele bunker earlier this month.
Friends, family and co-workers streamed into Nuuanu Mortuary for a service to remember 24-year-old Robert Kevin Freeman, who they called Kevin. He and four other men, including his best friend, Neil Sprankle, were killed April 8 in the accidental explosion at an underground fireworks storage facility in Waikele.
Sprankle and Freeman were classmates at Radford High School. A memorial service for Sprankle, 24, was held Tuesday night and he was buried Wednesday morning.
Many of the mourners Wednesday night were in uniform, friends from Freeman's eight years of service in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
"He is one of our best soldiers. A really good guy. One of the most popular guys out there, and he is going to be sorely missed," said Maj. David Hatcher of 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery of the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Freeman had just been promoted to staff sergeant less than one week before his death, and he had served in Kuwait and Iraq.
"He's a two-time combat veteran. Been all up and down the bad roads of Iraq. And to get through that without a scratch, and to come home to be with family and friends, and just an unfortunate, really unfortunate accident to take him away from us so young," said Hatcher.
Freeman, who lived in Aiea, leaves behind his wife, Heather, and their daughter, 3-year-old Maleia.
"He was a great guy. He was funny. He was always funny. He always cracked us up," said Kamakani Dedely, who had worked alongside Freeman as an unexploded ordnance technician.
"You know it could happen, doing what we do. But you don't want it to, and you don't expect it to. You want to cover all the ground for safety and everything, and I never would have thought it would have happened to these guys," Dedely said.
The Waikele Bunker Victims? Memorial Fund has been set up to benefit the families of the five victims. Donations can be made at any Bank of Hawaii branch, friends said.
Freeman will be laid to rest Thursday morning at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began removing unexploded fireworks and other residue from the Waikele explosion on Monday, and will continue doing so over the next few days, according to ATF spokesman Joe Green. Then the bunker will be safe for the ATF to conduct an investigation to determine what caused the deadly accident, Green said.
The other victims of the explosion were Bryan Cabalce, 25, of Wahiawa, Justin Kelii, 29, of Kaneohe; and Robert Leahey, 50.