For decades, a homeless person affectionately nicknamed the Mango Man has been a fixture in the beachside neighborhood of Kailua, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
With waist-length dreadlocks, Mango Man -- whose real name is John Cruz -- is reliably seen around town with his walker (he was hit by a car a few years ago) or sleeping under mango trees (hence his nickname). He is said to be in his late 60s and to have served in the Vietnam War.
He doesn’t ask for money or help, but rather sits quietly and watchfully in the neighborhood, sort of like a living landmark.
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According to Daniela Stolfi-Tow, an administrator for the “I Love Kailua” Facebook page, seeing Cruz is an important part of coming to the neighborhood. “You go from the airport, come home, get yourself your favorite plate lunch, and then you go see Mango Man,” she told The Huffington Post. “You’re so relieved to see him.”
But in April, when a group of residents went to surprise Cruz with a new walker, they found him in need of immediate health care.
According to KITV-4, the residents sought help from Chad Koyanagi, a community psychiatrist associated with the University of Hawaii, who organized with the Honolulu Police and Fire Departments, as well as EMS and the residents, to retrieve Cruz and take him to a hospital for treatment.
Because of his condition, which residents wouldn’t disclose to protect Cruz’s privacy, Cruz was placed in intensive care and is expected to stay in the hospital for a while.
Stolfi-Tow said his presence is missed. “It feels like the energy was just sucked out of the place,” she said.
A few other community members installed a sign for Cruz near a bus stop. “It’s to say, 'We’re holding your spot when you’re ready to come back,'” Stolfi-Tow said.
Why does the community love Cruz so much?
According to stories posted on the “I Love Kailua” community page on Facebook, many people experienced Cruz offering advice to those in need or protecting young people in Kailua.
Former Kailua resident DeeDee Gualdarama-Leong shared this story on the page:
"10th grade. I was talking to a friend and was not looking and [Cruz] grabbed me before a car came and banged the bus stop. Then 11th grade. Some grunts was harassing me, he told them to get the f*** away from his kids. 12th grade I was crying at the bus stop and he told me life is what u make out of it so think about it before u do bad, the Lord would not like that. I stopped crying and hugged him. I still go by that saying to this day.. thank u Lord for putting John in my life. I am truly blessed to call John my angel."
In addition to a guardian angel, Stolfi-Tow has come to think of Cruz as a centurion for the community because of his military service and his tendency to wear fatigues.
After serving in Vietnam, she told HuffPost, “he took up another post here ... He took his post and stood there day in and day out. He watched over everybody in his fatigues all day long. I realized that he was our guard. He watched over us.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Chad Koyanagi's affiliation with the University of Hawaii. He is not a doctor with the Waikiki Health Center.