When I was a child, Memorial Day meant attending the parade on Forest Avenue and having a barbeque in the back yard afterwards. As I got older, Memorial Day meant walking/running the Memorial Day race, the parade and hitting the sales advertised at every store imaginable. My mom would remember her cousin, Eugene Wasielewski, who died in World War II at the age of 23.  My dad, uncles and aunt served proudly in World War II.   

In 2005, Memorial Day became personally meaningful to me.  On August 4, my godson/nephew, Private Nils George Thompson, was killed in action by a sniper in Mosul, Iraq, one day after his 19th birthday. This young man grew up on Staten Island, and in 8th grade, moved with his family to a 100 acre farm/Bed & Breakfast in Confluence, Pennsylvania.  He helped his family on the farm building fences, a porch, sheds and a tree house and tended to the livestock—cattle, sheep, goats and chickens.

Nils grew up playing with GI Joes and always said he wanted to follow his grandfather and uncles into the military.




Upon graduating high school at 18, Nils enlisted in the Army and became a member of the Stryker Brigade based out of Fort Lewis, Washington.  In February 2005, he departed for Iraq. He always encouraged his family when he called or wrote playing down the danger of war.  He told his cousin, Jeff, that when he got back home and came to Staten Island, he wanted to buy $100 worth of Ralph’s Ices—his favorite! He called his grandmother and told her he was treated to a lobster dinner (her favorite) for his birthday on August 3.  He was deeply religious, attended Bible study on base as well as weekly services. He loved to read the Bible, and his squad chaplain witnessed him talking about the Gospel to others trying to bring them closer to God.  Nils made the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for our country.


On this Memorial Day, I ask that you remember all our fallen heroes.  More than 6,700 U.S. service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom alone, nine of them Staten Islanders.  

Army Sgt. Michael DiRaimondo- killed 1/8/2004 in Iraq - age of 22.

Navy Petty Officer Scott McHugh – killed 5/2/04 in Iraq - age 33

Army Pvt. Brian Grant – killed 11/26/04 in Iraq - age 31

Army Sgt. Ian Sanchez – killed 6/16/06 in Afghanistan - age 26

Army Pfc. Collin Mason – killed 6/1/06 in Iraq - age 20

Army Sgt. Yevgeny Ryndych – killed 12/6/06 in Iraq - age 24

Marine Cpl. Thomas Saba – killed 2/7/07 in Iraq - age 30

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis – killed 8/28/13 in Afghanistan - age 24 

Thank your friends and family who have served or are serving in the military for their service to protect our freedom-- FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!          


What does Memorial Day mean to you? Will you share your memories with me? Please leave a comment, write or call me at joan.coogan@gmail.com or 646-258-9696.

Posted by Joan Coogan on


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