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thedrifter
05-29-03, 11:11 AM
Posted May 29, 2003

Marine ‘died as he lived’

Straseskie known for helping others in need

By Steve Wideman
Post-Crescent staff writer

BEAVER DAM — Barely a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. Marine Sgt. Kirk Straseskie penned a letter to his fellow soldiers voicing expectations of war and the possibility of dying.

The envelope said the letter was only to be opened upon his death in war.

Relatives and friends attending Straseskie’s funeral Wednesday heard his words read as a final tribute to the 23-year-old Marine who drowned May 19 attempting to rescue four crewmen of a Marine helicopter that crashed into a canal in Iraq.

Straseskie, a native of Beaver Dam, was the first person from Wisconsin to die in military operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It’s quite possible … that I could die, plain and simple,” he wrote to his buddies in Bravo Company, 1st Battalion of the 4th Marine Division. “I don’t want to die, but don’t confuse that with fear.”

Straseskie said if he died, he would die “standing tall.”

“Life is something to take by the throat and squeeze to get as much as possible out of it,” he wrote as he expressed love for his Marine family, his family in Beaver Dam and, especially, his numerous nieces and nephews.

Straseskie said he was not afraid of dying if it meant freedom for his family.

“Tell them I was at peace with myself when I died,” he wrote in the Sept. 19, 2001, letter.

A detail of six Marines in dress blue uniforms carried Straseskie’s flag-draped, wooden coffin into St. Michael Catholic Church, where more than 500 people attended the hour-long service.

Following the casket were his father, John, a retired Army first sergeant who wore his uniform, and his brother, Ryan, a lieutenant in the Wisconsin Army National Guard who also was serving in Iraq at the time of Straseskie’s death.

The Rev. William Key said the Marine’s death illustrates the relationship between sacrifice and love.

“He died trying to help others who died in that canal. That is the stuff of heroes,” Key said.

Key said Straseskie was known around Beaver Dam for helping children. As a high school student, he helped those with special needs.

“He died as he lived, helping others,” Key said.

Straseskie, who had the Marine emblem tattooed on his chest, also helped younger Marines adapt to war, said Marine Sgt. Christopher Swaine of Boston, who served with Straseskie for six months in Iraq and was allowed to return home to attend his friend’s funeral.

“‘Ski’ was a strong Marine. He was a Marine’s Marine, always doing things right,” Swaine said. “He was a great leader and a fatherly figure to all the younger guys. When he had to take care of them, he did.”

Beaver Dam High School athletic director Todd Sobrilsky, who attended the funeral, was Straseskie’s wrestling coach and his defensive line coach in football.

“Kirk was our senior captain. He called all the plays,” Sobrilsky said of the one-time linebacker. “How Kirk died — jumping in the canal to save his fellow Marines — doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

Sobrilsky said Straseskie wrestled in the 152-pound weight class but was often called upon to face opponents 20 pounds heavier.

“He was one of those guys who always said, ‘Put me in where you need me, coach,’” Sobrilsky said.

He said Straseskie often returned to school while on leave and at one time presented a Marine Corps award to a student.

“Kirk was so proud to be a Marine,” Sobrilsky said.

Businesses and government buildings throughout Beaver Dam flew their flags at half-staff in honor of Straseskie. World War II Army veteran John Stauropoulus, who lives a half-block from the church and knows the Straseskie family, had a large flag in his yard, also flying at half-staff.

Stauropoulus said Straseskie was a “Jack Armstrong, all-American kind of kid” who sacrificed his own safety for others.

“The will to live is very strong,” Stauropoulus said. “In Kirk’s case the desire to help others overcame his feelings for self-preservation. The kid didn’t hesitate to jump in and help.”

Squad cars from the Beaver Dam Police Department and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department escorted a 97-car funeral procession from St. Michael’s to the Highland Memory Gardens cemetery about five miles north of Beaver Dam.

Straseskie was buried next to his mother, Dianne L. Straseskie, who died in 1997.

“Kirk’s death had affected this community profoundly,” said Beaver Dam Police Chief Gary Cox. “Kirk was very well-respected in Beaver Dam. Being a relatively small town, his loss of life is felt by many.”

Steve Wideman can be reached at 920-9930-1000, ext. 302, or by e-mail at swideman@ postcrescent.com

http://www.wisinfo.com/postcrescent/news/images/052903regionalweb.jpg

Marines carry the coffin of Sgt. Kirk Straseskie, 23, of Beaver Dam, to the gravesite for burial Wednesday at Highland Memory Gardens cemetery in Beaver Dam. Straseskie, the first Marine from Wisconsin killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, drowned May 19 after leaping into an Iraqi canal to rescue the crew of a downed U.S. helicopter. Post-Crescent photo by Sharon Cekada


Sempers,

Roger

thedrifter
05-29-03, 11:31 AM
Here is the text of a letter sent by U.S. Marine Sgt. Kirk Straseskie to his friend Nick Neuman on Sept. 19, 2001. The letter was read Wednesday at Strasekie's funeral. It also was published with his obituary in the Daily Citizen of Beaver Dam. Straseskie was the first of two people from Wisconsin to die in military operations in Iraq:

"I suppose now is as good a time as any to go ahead and get this off my chest. With all that's happened in the past weeks the possibility of war seems high. Well, in the long run or the big picture. What does that mean for me? Quite possibly Nick, I could die. Plain and simple.

I do not want to die, it saddens me to think of what I would miss if I were killed. But don't confuse that with fear. I am not afraid to die, and I am prepared to in both my heart and soul. It is my belief that there are greater causes to live and fight for than one's self. That is why I serve. To all I have known and been friends with, I thank you for the experiences and lessons I've had while living my life. I have had friends who have been so important to me, friends that have been with me wherever the Corps has taken me. The most miserable times have been eased by the memories of our times together.

Nick, I ask you to pass these thoughts of mine on to any you think should hear them. To my family I have this: To my parents, Dad and Barb, thank you for being there for me. Dad I know you've told me not to take chances, and to push myself hard, but for me that would not have been living. Life was something for me to grab by the throat and squeeze, demanding all I could get from it. When the time comes for me, it will find me ready and standing tall. My life was not wasted and I died for what I believe in. I ask you to take comfort in that, and do not mourn me, for now I wear my dress blues and stand guard at the gates of heaven.

My brothers, you all have had my back in the biggest way as I grew up. there had been nothing that I would not have done for you at any time. As I served my country I truly believed that I had your backs in the biggest way I could. I love you guys and hope for the best to come your way in the years to follow. Good health, and God willing, freedom to you and your families.

This here, is the most important thing I have, this for my nieces and nephews. Make sure they know and understand as they grow older, how much they meant to me. They were the biggest cause of my desire to serve our nation. I would have loved to be there and watch them grow. Devon, Nate, Katy, Maddy, Hannah, Sydney and any others that might have come along since I wrote this, you all were so special to me. Just knowing that you are my family, that my actions have helped to secure your safety and freedom, is more reward to me than any dollar sign, the time I spent watching you grow has given me years of happiness. So many smiles to last three lifetimes. If there is only one thing you could do for me, do not let my nieces and nephews forget about me, but above all, let them know I loved them, and I pray my sacrifice to them will be all they ever have to pay for happiness in life.

Nick, I have many more family members and friends to which I could write, but to keep it as simple as possible, tell them I was at peace with myself when I died, and I fought with everything I had. Take care of yourself buddy, and a happy life to you and Ray, my two best friends in life.

--Godspeed and Semper Fidelis, Kirk A. Straseskie


Rest in Peace


Sempers,

Roger