By David Lichtenstein
“Surrounded with the strength of family, the sweet sound of music and overflowing love … my uncle/godfather went in peace to the arms of our lord Jesus Christ … heavy hearted.”
Kimberly Helm, Uncle Larry’s niece, wrote this short Facebook post this morning to let the world know of his passing last night at approximately 9:15 p.m. from liver cancer.
Larry made his last public appearance on June 8 at the fundraiser for the Molokai Veterans Center, the project that has been his passion for the last seven years. A video connection allowed Uncle Larry to offer his thanks to all the supporters gathered at Paddlers’ Inn.
Although Larry did not want to be seen, I could hear the gratitude and appreciation in his weakened voice. I was honored to present Larry and the Molokai veterans with an American flag that had traveled the Kaiwi Channel in last year’s Molokai Hoe. It was Larry’s support of my brother-in-law’s Special Operation Forces paddling team that made it possible for them to compete in the paddling race and raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project.
Uncle Larry’s final words to the crowd at Paddlers’ were words of encouragement … “finish the center,” he implored. Larry wanted to see the center completed before his death. The center, almost completed, will be Larry’s legacy; the fact that it was not finished in his lifetime is Maui County’s shame.
Uncle Larry’s influence went well beyond Molokai and into the halls of power in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke about Uncle Larry on the floor of Congress …
“Thank you Mr. Speaker, I rise very proudly today to honor one of our nation’s heroes, a man named Larry Helm who served honorably as a combat veteran in Vietnam who now serves as commander of the Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans center and who is very fondly known to those of us who know him as Uncle Larry.
“He is the epitome of a servant leader who has been active all across the state of Hawaii fighting for his family, his friends his neighbors his community for veterans and all those who have served in the armed services, taking him all the way to US Senate testifying and fighting for benefits.
“No matter the challenge, whether in combat in Vietnam as a community leader or now as he battles cancer, Uncle Larry has always stood for what is right. He’s dedicated three decades of his life to opening a veterans center to those veterans on Molokai to make sure that valuable resources are available to these veterans and their families who very often have access to none. Uncle Larry, we love you, we honor you and we stand with in your righteous battles and we will work to make your vision a reality.”
Six years ago, in my first week living here, I met Uncle Larry who immediately made me feel comfortable as a malihini living on Molokai. I was editor of The Molokai Times and Larry was a well-known public figure who contributed frequently to the newspaper. He would often call me early in the morning to offer story tips and we would end up talking for hours about government and politics and the history of Molokai.
Uncle Larry was a big supporter of The Molokai Times and even offered to purchase the newspaper’s assets to keep it running. Unfortunately, a sale price could not be negotiated and The Molokai Times faded into oblivion.
It is hard to know exactly how many lives on Molokai and across Hawaii Nei that Uncle Larry touched. Larry … you were a hero to many and your ‘ohana, and your extended ‘ohana of Molokai, will sorely miss you.
To better understand Uncle Larry’s trials and tribulations, as well as his triumphs, his daughter Nichol wrote a loving tribute for him.