The first video was posted on TikTok on 1 June and was shared by Puna Ta’mau. It showed the group Toa O Samoa’s commemorations getting a visit from Mr Austin as he silently walked up to them.
In the video, a man who Ms Ta’mau names as Mareko is speaking about what they are going to do to honour the fallen soldiers.
“We are going to sing a quick Samoan song of thank you for his service to our country.” he said. “The entire song is sung in Samoan.”
As he speaks, Mr Austin gets closer to him, and as he finishes talking, Mr Austin touches him on his shoulder, interrupting him to pay his respects.
Later, Mr Austin thanking the group is captured in a video that was posted on to YouTube on 3 June.
“I want to thank you guys for your sacrifices and your loss, and tell you how much the country appreciates what you do each and every day,” Mr Austin told them.
He continued, “I know it’s a special day, I know you’re here for a special reason, and I just want to add my voice and gratitude to all of you.”
Mr Austin’s retirement from the military followed more than 40 years of service in 2016. He worked his way up to the rank of general and was involved in the campaign to defeat Islamic State.
When asked about why he joined in, the Pentagon, according to Task & Purpose, said Memorial Day is “personal to Secretary Austin. And he knows all too well how personal it is to our Gold Star families.”
In another TikTok, Ms Ta’amu explained what their group was doing on Memorial Day. She said that they were paying their respects to any soldier in the cemetery of Samoan heritage, especially those whose families cannot be there. She said they a woman mourning her brother, and decided to join her before Mr Austin came along.
“We noticed another young lady, because she had been watching us,” she said in a follow up TikTok. “You could see she was very happy to see us there and she was clapping along with us.”
According to Task & Purpose, she said that she recognised Mr Austin from a previous encounter she had with him in 2014 while stationed in Kuwait. She said that everyone found it touching he had spoken to them during their wreath-laying ceremony.
“It wasn’t until he left that we actually sat back, talking about and like how cool it was for us that are in the service and that have served,” she said. “We actually got to meet the head guy.”
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