How many of you actually know the meaning of Memorial Day?  It is a federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered. The holiday, which is celebrated every year on the last Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.  Many people visit cemeteries and memorials.  Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national and local cemeteries.

When I was a child, Memorial Day meant attending the parade on Forest Ave. and having a barbeque in the back yard afterwards. To this day, I attend the Memorial Day Parade on Forest Ave. with my family and friends. My mom would remember her cousin, Private Eugene S. Wasielewski, who died in World War II at the age of 23. 

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, he 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, uncles and aunt, who served proudly in World War II, 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 and 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 over 10 years ago by giving his life for our country. 

On this Memorial Day, I ask that you take a moment to say a prayer and remember our fallen heroes.  To date, more than 6,800 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 


What does Memorial Day mean to you?  Do you honor friends and family who died in the service of their country?  Do you attend the Memorial Day Parade?  Will you share your memories with me or pictures of your loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice? Please leave a comment, write or call me at or 646-258-9696. 

Posted by Joan Coogan on


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The very nicest and most humble young man. Nils had a calming effect on everyone. I was not that close but yes I considered him very special. I think of him often. I wish I had gotten to know him better.

Posted by Paula Bauer on Sunday, May 29th, 2016 at 8:44pm

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