Lt. Col. (Ret.) Joseph Waiwaiole Kahiapo died on Aug. 10, 2021, in Mililani, Hawaii. Joe was a man of immense talent and a heart to match. The talent was obvious, exemplified by his tremendous speed: in 1975, he led the USAFA track team to an American record in the shuttle hurdle relay by an astounding margin of 0.8 seconds! His speed over the first hurdle was blinding, like a rocket – no ordinary Joe was he! This accomplishment was one of many that gave Joe a special place in the USAFA family; he was a friend to all. We shall miss him greatly!
Joe was a native Hawaiian, born before Hawaii became a state. His life brimmed with Hawaiian energy and optimism. He excelled at Kamehameha Schools where he dominated hurdling in Hawaii for three years. Of even greater importance, he met Sue, his future wife and soulmate, there! Joe’s abilities as a student, athlete and leader were quickly recognized. He was soon launched into our midst as a member of ‘75, Best Alive! Joe graced 38th Squadron and was certainly an All Star!
Upon graduation, Joe married Sue and was assigned to UPT at Webb AFB. As a tanker pilot, he quickly climbed the KC-135 ranks: pilot, aircraft commander, instructor. But, more importantly, he loved Sue and his growing family – “My Three Sons” – Jody, Curtis and Jerome! (Apologies to Fred MacMurray!) Like most of us, Joe and his clan traveled the world on Air Force assignments, Guam and England as well as state-side. But the pull of Hawaii was ever present. In the early 1990s, Joe landed an assignment to Hickam with a clear vision: he and Sue were retiring there for Joe’s second career.
Aloha, Aloha Airlines! Joe joined Aloha in 1995 and flourished for the next 13 years until the unthinkable happened. Early one morning Jerome, always the astute observer, watched the news and told Joe that Aloha Airlines had just ceased operations. And so, it was.
Joe used his newfound free time attending to projects around the house, spending time with Sue and helping Curtis renovate his home. However, this didn’t last long! Joe soon found himself back in “work mode.” He spent the next five years as a contractor and civil servant in scheduling and mission planning for the KC-135 gang at Hickam.
In 2015, Joe retired for good. His retirement provided him time to pursue his passions: establishing scholarships at Kamehameha High School; honoring his mentors and providing opportunities for young people to pursue a college education; coming up with new ideas or inventions (the last being a personal ofuro or Japanese hot tub); and of course, caring for his family and the expanding demands of his seven grandchildren who affectionately referred to him as “Papa.”
Joe loved Sue, loved his family and loved life. His speed may have diminished (slightly!) over the years but he never looked back. Humility, loyalty and creativity; Joe embodied them all. He will be sorely missed by his friends and the world!
K.C. Schwarz ’75, classmate, and Sue Kahiapo, Joe’s wife | December 2021
From Chris Budinsky: I got a call from Sue Kahiapo this morning. Joe had a stroke last night and passed away at the hospital. I’m still trying to process it…just talked to him a couple weeks ago.
From the AOG: The Association of Graduates has recently learned of the death of Lt Col (Ret) Joseph W. “Joe” Kahiapo, Jr., CS-38 class of 1975. Colonel Kahiapo passed away on 10 Aug 2021 in Mililani, HI. Services are currently pending. His obituary can be found at Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary. Condolences may be left online at the mortuary website, or they may be sent to his family in care of his wife, Susan: Mrs. Susan I. Kahiapo; 94-321 Kaholo St; Mililani, HI 96789-2532
Joe was one of the best hurdlers the Academy has ever produced and freshman year he became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I was privileged to be chosen as best man for his wedding over 46 years ago and to watch his family grow during many visits over the last 50 years. When visiting, “mi casa es su casa” was his motto and he always had cold Coronas. Joe was warm, caring, genuine, empathetic, patient, a god listener, athletic, had a great sense of humor and, most of all, loved Sue and his family. I was stunned when I got her call and am still trying to process Joe’s passing. It was too soon and a stark reminder of our own mortality. Rest In peace, Bro Joe. I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet.
– Chris Budinsky
Joe - kind, thoughtful, hard working, and genuinely caring. He was a brother. God be with his family.
– Duane Jones
I knew Joe very well- one of the greatest guys you could ever have as a friend! We went through survival training together and became good friends after that. I used to call him and we would get together for breakfast when I had layovers in Hawaii while flying with FedEx- over 30 years after graduation. A true friend for life!
– Rod Kallman
A better man never walked the earth. He will be missed.
– Sanford Terry
I remember seeing Joe in basic training in the summer of 1971. He was focused, steady in his attitude and performance, and a fine team mate. We were in different squadrons during our four years at the Academy, so we didn’t interact regularly. Joe always impressed me as reliable, respectful, and quietly effective. I am genuinely saddened to hear of his passing. My condolences to his wife and family.
– Terry Young
Joe was one of the "Dirty Dozen" at the AF Academy. He will be dearly missed and was one of the guys that would do anything for you. He was generous, smart and a great person to be around. You will always be remembered.
– Steven Groathouse
Friend & college classmate Joe's life was remembered this past weekend [December 2022] at the Bishop Memorial Chapel on the Kapalama Campus of the Kamehameha Schools. With similar local boy backgrounds, we (& his wife Sue) best related to each other's life experiences, as we both attended the USAF Academy, served as pilots in the Air Force, moved around a gazillion times, and also flew with the airlines. Because of these parallels, we stayed close through the years.
Having been part of a world record-setting high hurdle relay team in the '70's, Joe stayed in shape into retirement with almost daily workouts. So it shocked me when Sue called to give me the dreadful news. I later learned from her that Joe had told her to only call me when he was first hospitalized, which made me feel honored yet sad that I couldn't have been of more help to him & his family. Judging from the many in attendance at his service, Joe leaves behind many family & dear friends. His legacy is one of service to others before self, & an intense love for God, country, family, & friends. Aloha Joe, a hui hou.
– Rick Kim