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04-17-09, 09:26 AM
Young Marine remembered

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dispatch Staff Writer

ROME — Many came out to mourn the loss of Marine Lance Cpl. Blaise Oleski Thursday afternoon at a funeral service held at Fort Stanwix National Monument.

The ceremony for the Holland Patent serviceman who was killed supporting combat operation in Afghanistan last week drew many residents from the area who didn’t all know Oleski personally, but wanted to pay their respects.

Some of the people at the service who did know Oleski also had memories and thoughts to share.

“It’s really, really sad,” said Ellen Porter, the mother of Cpl. Stephen Porter, a Marine who shipped out with Oleski from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

“The guys there loved him. It’s just so heartbreaking. They’re a nice group of kids,” she said. And the loss of a friend makes it harder than usual to go on.

“The morale there is low,” Ellen said. “They just want to get done with it.”

Ellen said that Oleski and her son were very good friends and that Oleski had visited their Pittsburgh, Pa. home. Ellen and her other son, Jacob, traveled from Pennsylvania to the funeral. Ellen said that she and Oleski’s mother, Theresa, had recently started e-mailing each other when this happened. She remembers Oleski fondly.

“He was so wonderful and so respectful,” she said. “He was just so nice.”

Others in attendance were schoolmates from Holland Patent.

“We grew up with Blaise and his family,” said Stacy Clawson, of nearby Floyd, who was a few years younger than Oleski, but graduated with his brother.

The memories that she does have of Oleski are good ones, she said. She recalls that he was “a good guy who cared about everyone.”

She and her friend, Kayla Ritzel, of Holland Patent, came to Fort Stanwix to pay their respects.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Clawson.

Ritzel said that when word about Oleski spread around her hometown, it was a true shock, and others from the area agreed.

“We’re a tight knit community,” said Cindi Wood, of Floyd. “Everybody knows everyone else.”

Wood said that her daughter, Kallea Pfohl, used to ride the school bus with the Oleski boys. Pfohl remembered Blaise as being a good-natured person.

“He was always a good sport and always nice to everybody,” she said.

Wood and Pfohl, both of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Rescue, came out with the rest of the squad to remember Oleski. Many other local departments also came to pay tribute. Various rescue vehicles lined the street leading to the fort, with several American flags waving down from ladders raised high above the roadway.

The funeral service took place not far from the street, where a large crowd gathered around a small tent set up outside of the fort walls. An American flag flew at half-staff from a pole inside the fort. Marines stood on one wall section, overlooking the tent. Revolutionary War reenactors from the fort stood on another portion.

It was a family request to hold this ceremony at the fort and something that park officials at the site were happy to accommodate, said Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management Mike Kusch, though it was the Marine Corps that took the lead in arranging the service, the first of its kind to Kusch’s knowledge.

Marine presence was heavy at the event. Inspector-Instructor First Sergeant Christopher Hurst, of the Syracuse 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, was a part of the service. He said he was impressed by the fact that the service was held at Fort Stanwix.

“I think it’s outstanding,” he said. “I was talking with the director of the fort and there’s a lot of history in this town alone. This fort never surrendered during the Revolutionary War. The first colors were flown here...You couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.”

Hurst said that he had heard that Oleski had some special childhood memories involving the fort, so it seemed even more appropriate that the family would request such a venue.

In addition to attracting those who knew Oleski, Fort Stanwix played host to a number of people who did not, but were affected by the news of his death in some way. Dawn Rivenburgh, of Rome, said that her son is in the Army and her daughter is in the Navy. When they’re away, she said she worries about them constantly. She said she feels terrible that Oleski’s parents are dealing with such a loss.

“It’s not fair that these kids have to pass on like this,” she said. “It’s not fair to the parents. It’s heartbreaking. My heart goes out to them.”

John Damon, of Floyd, is incoming commander of the Leon R. Roberts Post 161 American Legion in Holland Patent. He and others from the post came to the service to support a follow serviceman. For Damon, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, he said it’s about love for the country and unity.

“It not only shows patriotism, but shows that you support armed forces. It’s very important to support armed forces,” he said.

A little before 1 p.m., family and friends, some in tears, some smiling, made their way on foot from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on North James Street to the tent, where Oleski’s casket, draped with an American flag, was placed by Marine casket bearers.

Those inside and outside of the tent prayed in unison for Oleski and watched as Marines on the fort wall fired their 21 gun to salute him. There was total silence as taps was played. The flag on his coffin was folded and presented to his family.

Ralph D’Avolio, of the Tun Tavern Leathernecks Marine Corps League, Detachment 961 in Boonville, served in World War II between 1943 and 1946. D’Avolio, who was a part of the color guard during the service, is originally from Rome and said the reason to come back for Oleski’s funeral was simple for him: “He was a Marine.”