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NEWS | May 21, 2020

Maj. McClellan Gaono-Taiese - High Chief

Missouri National Guard

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - In many Polynesian cultures, tattoos are symbols of class, nobility and family. An American Samoan currently assigned to the Missouri National Guard received his traditional tattoo as a way to honor his heritage and show respect to his family.

Maj. McClellan Gaono-Taiese, mobilization plans officer, Missouri National Guard said, "in 2007, my mom passed away, I went home to pay my respects to her family. It was such an honor for me to do that."

While Gaono was in Samoan, he found out his mother's family,  Aiono, title of high chief in the village of Tutulia, was left unclaimed after her father passed away. To claim the title, someone in their bloodline would undergo a ceremonial process that includes a traditional Samoan Tattoo.

High Chief Gaono explained the tattooing process

Samoan tattoos are created by laying a tattoo comb on the stick's end, dipping the stick into the tattoo ink, placing the comb against the skin, and knocking the stick with a mallet to drive the ink into the skin.”

High Chief Gaono endured six 12-hour shifts of traditional Samoan tattooing as a tribute to his mother.

"It was one of the most excruciating things I have ever been through," said Gaono. "While I was going through the tattoo, it took me back to all my happy places with my mom as she raised us."

Gaono comes from a long legacy of Samoan ancestry. His father is an American Samoan, and his mother is a Western Samoan. When his parents married, his mother gained her U.S. citizenship. However, according to Gaono, his mother wanted to earn it and went through the naturalization process. 

"She wanted to instill in us that nothing is ever given to you, you have to earn it," Gaono said. 

Gaono's father, Sgt. 1st Class Taiese Gaono, served in the Army for 23 years. Honoring his father's military legacy was one of the main reasons he enlisted in the Army.

"I'm proud of my culture," said Gaono. "We have a strong history of loyalty, family and a background of sharing our culture with other people. It's not often that I run into somebody from a similar culture, but, when somebody asks me, are you Samoan? I reply proudly, yes, I am."

Gaono has been a commissioned officer for more than 20 years and has broken several cultural barriers, including being the only American Samoan company commander in the Missouri National Guard.

"I hope that what I've done and what I've accomplished allows other Pacific Islanders to step up and take the challenge and become the next company commander."
As Gaono's career in the Missouri National Guard comes to an end, he hopes his legacy will inspire and motivate future Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to become leaders.

"There are a lot of people in the Missouri Guard that I see standing in the ranks and I want them to succeed too," said Gaono. “I would love to see more of our Guard men and women proudly represent their culture and become leaders in our formation.”