A few days ago, through a group chat news was shared that our brother-in-arms, Joey Santos, had passed. As a former service member, I had a chance to know this fine man. In addition to serving his country, Joey was an icon throughout the sports and athletics community. His athletic prowess was certainly a sight to see, however, it was his approach to sportsmanship and coaching philosophy that I found most intriguing. He was the epitome of an all-around sports legend.

During our annual volleyball tournaments, Joey, being the ultimate sportsman, would sometimes point to a particular area on the court and advise anyone standing anywhere in close proximity that he was going to spike the ball in that exact spot. Now, if you’ve ever seen Joey play volleyball, you knew that every time he executed a vertical leap that the missile, er, ball, was coming at you at warp speed. I must confess that I’m not a big fan of getting the word Mikasa tattooed across my forehead so whenever I see him make that gesture, it was in my best interest to either vacate the immediate area or duck for cover. Of course, through it all, Joey was always sporting a humorous smile. Anything round could not escape Joey’s grip. His mastery of any sport was amazing and worth the price of admission.

Joey was a true wingman. Joey can be counted on to be there for his troops. He mostly led from the front, and sometimes would lead from the back, thus allowing his troops to feel that they were the ones leading. His compassion for mission accomplishment was unmatched. He participated in numerous deployments, mostly to troubled spots in the world. He had a knack for convincing people that their contributions made a difference. He stood for what’s right and fought to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. I want to thank Joey and his family for their service and sacrifice.

I’m sure I share similar sentiments, along with many, when I say that our island and community suffered a great loss with Joey’s passing. Joey was an inspiration to many and a role model to hundreds. I can only imagine the plethora of athletic and sports accomplishments, I am sure there are many. What stood out to me always was his infectious smile. I would run into Joey at sporting events and his jovial personality made you feel important. He always asked about the family and kids and we’d catch up with his current goings-on. The last time I spoke with Joey was at a sporting event earlier this year. He gave me his signature bear hug, accompanied by his Dale Carnegie smile and as always, asked about the family and which child was competing. I’m grateful to have shared that last memory with Joey, I can’t imagine our last encounter going any other way, that’s how Joey was built. He always made sure he brought joy to other people’s lives.

I have no doubt that Joey is conducting basketball clinics “up there” and regardless of who you are, Joey will always make sure that you understand and get it. That’s what makes Joey so special. Joey was a great airman, coach and leader but most importantly his greatest achievement was his family and his desire to make the world a better place. To his family, Joey meant a lot to us and we thank you for sharing him with us. His service to our country and island will never be forgotten. He remains, in our minds, a great man and an example for many to follow. Joey, from a grateful island we give you a high-five and from me and our fellow “Taotaomonas” – a heartfelt and with great respect, salute. Well done my friend, your legacy lives on.

Ralph T. Rivera is a resident of Mangilao

Recommended for you