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Check Six – 2008: Ritchie Kunichika

December 13, 2018

Richie, Heidi and Hideko Kunichika at Heidi’s UPT graduation | Kunichika Family photograph – used with permission

Ritchie “Kuni” Kunichika, passed away on December 13, 2008. He was 74 years old. Kuni’s survivors were his wife, Hideko, daughters Tracey Kunichika and Heidi Mosteller, three grandchildren; brothers, Paul and Thomas. His services were private, with ashes later scattered at sea from his fishing boat named the Musubi.

Kuni was born on May 6, 1934 in Lahaina, Maui. After a move to Honolulu, he graduated from McKinley High School in 1952.

During his undergraduate time at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa, he was named to the University’s All-Time Men’s Swimming and Diving Lettermen in 1953. Kuni left after two years and was commissioned in the Hawaii Air National Guard.

During his career, he flew F-86s, F-102s, F-4s, C-7s, C-130s, and F-15s with the 199th Fighter Squadron. Kuni’s last assignment with the Hawaii Air National Guard was as 154th Group Deputy Commander for Operations. In 1989, Colonel Kunichika retired from his technician position at age 55.

The next day, he became a M-Day Warrant Officer in the Hawaii Army National Guard. He flew the HIARNG’s C-26 out of the then-Wheeler AFB, near his home in Wahiawa. He retired from the Guard in 1994 at age 60.

In civilian life, he became the pilot for First Hawaiian Bank’s corporate jet. He spent the next few years flying the bank’s executives to locations worldwide.

Those who served with Kuni know we lost a superb pilot ten years ago but more importantly, a true officer and a gentleman.

But there’s more to the story…

Richie’s brother Paul Kunichika served in the United States Air Force from 1952 until he retired in 1979. Paul was stationed at then-Hickam AFB from 1959 to 1963. On Sunday, April 24, 1960, Paul and Kuni were involved in a midair collision during a training mission. Part of the newspaper report stated:

Two brothers collided in jet planes 35,000 feet above Hawaii Saturday, both escaped injury and landed their planes safely. Lt. Richie K. Kunichika of the Hawaii National Guard piloted an F-86. Air Force Capt. Paul M. Kunichika of Hickam AFB flew a T-33 jet trainer, simulating an intruder in an Air Guard defense exercise. The T-33’s vertical stabilizer and the afterburner section of the F-86 were damaged slightly.

One of Paul’s sons, Keith Kunichika was commissioned in the Hawaii Air National Guard in 1977. Keith served in the Hawaii Air National Guard in the maintenance complex and later as the budget officer and controller. An AGR, he retired in 2003. He then entered Federal civil service, serving with the Air Force Audit Agency. Keith later moved to the Marine Audit Service and retired in 2010.

One of Richie’s daughters Heidi Mosteller was commissioned in the Hawaii Air National Guard in 1993.  She successfully completed undergraduate pilot training (UPT), becoming the HIANG’s first female pilot. Heidi served with the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, flying the KC-135R Stratotanker, later served in several key staff positions.

Special thanks to Heidi for graciously contributing information for this article and sharing the photograph.

From → History

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