Birth Date: August 10, 1930
Death Date: January 31, 2017
Vilmars Kukainis, age 86, of Sagamore Hills, passed away on January 31, 2017. Born in Riga, Latvia, to the late Vilhelms and Marta. Devoted husband of Dzintra Kukainis for 61 years. Father of Maris Kukainis (Tamara) and Lauris Kukainis. Grandfather of Benjamin and Daniel Kukainis.
The life path taken by Vilmars is a story of survival, fortitude, and commitment to preserving his heritage. It is also a tribute to the American Dream in which a war refugee from Latvia can become a high ranking military officer and civic leader in his adopted country.
Vilmars escaped Latvia in 1944 as a World War II refugee during which time his father was killed by the Red Army. He lost his mother for a time, but eventually was reunited with her in a displaced person camp in West Germany after the war. He started military service as the youngest member of the US Army’s Baltic Guard Service tasked for guarding and transporting war prisoners in Nuremberg. Vilmars emigrated to the US in 1950 and was officially drafted into the US Army soon thereafter and served as an intelligence interpreter in Vienna. After enrolling in ROTC at Western Michigan University, he graduated and was commissioned as an Army Lieutenant (Quartermaster) in 1957. Over the next twenty years he served in many overseas assignments, including Germany, Iran, Vietnam, and Thailand. After retiring from active duty, he signed up with the Ohio Military Reserves in which he achieved the Brigadier General rank in 1996. Vilmars ended his military career in 1999, having served nearly 50 decades and having received 27 medals and the bronze star (Vietnam.) His time with the Reserves coincided with completing an MPA degree at Kent State University (KSU) and his work as a procurement manager in the private industry (Gould/Westinghouse.) Vilmars’ dedication to his birth country, Latvia, was equally impressive as his service to the United States. He actively worked with other Latvians in the US military to strengthen the newly created Latvian National Army after Latvia gained its independence in 1990. This effort helped Latvia’s eventual inclusion into NATO. His other contributions include support for the Latvian War Museum, Occupation Museum, and other Baltic institutions. On the home front, Vilmars held leadership roles at the Latvian Cleveland Credit Union and the Daugavas Vanagi (Latvian welfare organization), and stewarded the Latvian Scholarship program at KSU. In tribute to his work, Vilmars was awarded one of the highest awards in Latvia, the Tris Zvaigznu ordenu (Three Star Award), similar to what his father received in the 1930s. Like father, like son. He has left a large inspirational imprint in the lives of his family, community, and country.
The family will receive friends Saturday, February 4, 2017 from 9:30-10:30AM at the United Latvian Evangelical Church of Cleveland, 1385 Andrews Ave., Lakewood 44107 where funeral services will commence on Saturday at 1030AM. Interment to follow at Sunset Memorial Park in North Olmsted.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the United Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cleveland. Dostalbokas.com