By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (May 20, 2010) – Private First Class Kham See Xiong, one of 13 American soldiers murdered by a fellow soldier at a U.S. Army military medical processing center at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009, was remembered Thursday by the high school he graduated from in 2004 in a “Community of Peace Academy Memorial Garden” dedication.
The private ceremony was conducted on the roof of the school, which was transformed by garden designer Robert Buckner – who was present for the ceremony.
Dr. Karen Rusthoven, executive director and K-6 Principal of Community Peace Academy, welcomed the Xiong family and friends to what she said is the first green roof in the City of Saint Paul, and the first green roof on a school building in the State of Minnesota.
“This was destined to be a special place,” said Rusthoven. “However, our actions this morning have given this lovely garden a higher and more noble purpose than any of us could have imagined.”
Kham See’s father, Tong Chor Xiong, and mother, Panou Xiong, were present with most of their other nine children. A younger brother is in the Marines, and currently stationed at 29 Palms, California, training for deployment to Afghanistan this July, according to Tong Chor, adding that another son is considering enlisting in the Air Force.
Dr. Nao Ko Yang, the Xiong family pastor, remember Kham See as a good son to his parents, a good brother to his siblings, a good friend, a good student – and a great soldier. He said the memorial will keep his memory alive to this community, and the national memorial will keep his memory alive with the thousands of others that have served and have given their lives for our freedom.
“May you enjoy the garden as you walk through here we will remember Kham See,” said Yang.
Assistant Principal for grades 7-12, Robert White, was also Kham See’s 8th grade teacher. He described him as a good natured person with an infectious smile, who brought classmates together with his energy, joy and a love of life. He put everything into what he did, said White, whether it was basketball, choir, or making people laugh to bring out the best in them.
White recalled the difficult task of preparing the school announcement of the tragic news of Kham See’s death.
“It makes no sense that someone so young, so kind and so positive would be taken from us,” said White. “Kham was a force of good in this world. All of us who knew him were touched by him and will carry his joyful spirit in our hearts as we go forward.”
Xiong left behind his wife, Shoua Her (CPA class of 2004) and three young children. She was present for the ceremony with 3 year-old Devin.
Her husband was 23 when he died, assigned to the 510th Engineer Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, in Fort Hood, Texas. He had worked various jobs before joining the Army to better support his family. He was schooled as a combat engineer, but was reportedly switching to heavy artillery, and happy to be starting a new home with his wife and children in Texas, where they were to stay while he was deployed to the Afghanistan.
The alleged killer, an Army medical staff member, Nidal Hasan, killed 13 and wounded 31 other military and civilian personnel before he was critically wounded by gunfire from military police. He is currently paralyzed in a hospital awaiting trial.
Work on the project began in 2007, according to Greg Buckner in school maintenance, who noted the plants used in the project were selected for their ability to flourish with little water. The school science classes are currently using the garden for relevant class work and the school is exploring ways to incorporate students to work on the garden that is in relation to the curriculum.
Saint Paul District 5 City Councilmember Lee Helgen was credited by Dr. Rusthoven for his vision that lead to the project. She had shown him area to consider as a gymnasium and auditorium and he saw it as an ideal green space location.
Helgen said the garden has a positive impact and this memorial dedication and plaque is an appropriate way for the community to reach out to the Xiong family. It presents a space to reflect on this senseless act of violence and about what it means to have people make sacrifices and what it means to be honored – and to reflect on how a family can support one another.
Kham Xiong is the first person honored with a Memorial Garden Dedication Ceremony. He said the symbolism of the artwork is appropriate for what has happened and shows the strength of the community.
“This was an opportunity to take what was a black roof and make it into something beautiful, peaceful and inspiring,” said Helgen.
Nhia Lee Her, K-12 Music Paraprofessional, sang the national anthem and recited the pledge of allegiance.
James DeLong, director of Development, presented a quilt to the Xiong family on behalf of Jean Laken from Home of the Brave – Minnesota Quilt Project.
At the conclusion of taps, played by bugler James Vellenga, two boxes of doves were released from the roof. The birds flew over the gathering and the garden, circling in the skies above the school several times before finding their bearing homeward.
To make a donation to the “Kham Xiong Fund” established at Anchor Bank, contact or visit an Anchor Bank location, or through the Community of Peace Academy at 471 Magnolia Avenue E., St. Paul, MN 55130.