Kirk Allen Straseskie
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
May 19, 2003
|Drowned in a canal near Al Hillah, Iraq, when he attempted to rescue the crewmembers of a Marine helicopter that went down in the canal.|
|A Marine's farewell
Family, friends honor man who died in Iraq trying to save others
By TOM HELD
Posted: May 29, 2003
Beaver Dam - The mourners flinched, even some of those in military uniform, when the cracks of a rifle salute slapped them with the finality of Kirk Straseskie's burial Wednesday afternoon.
But not John Straseskie. The grieving father stood solidly in his own National Guard Army uniform.
Nor Jenifer Winegardner, a family friend who gazed forward with her arms wrapped around one of the fallen Marine's nephews.
As others sniffed back tears, they stared at the wooden casket, eyes focused and still.
"You stand tall and you stand proud," Winegardner said later. "That's what he would have wanted. That's what he always said."
Perhaps Winegardner found her inspiration in the words Straseskie, 23, wrote to a friend back on Sept. 19, 2001, when the terrorist attacks on America made military men ponder their mortality.
"When the time comes for me, it will find me ready and standing tall," Straseskie wrote to his friend Nick Neuman. "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 for me, for now I wear my dress blues and stand guard at the gates of heaven."
Neuman read that letter earlier Wednesday, sharing an intimate glimpse of Straseskie with more than 300 relatives, friends, officials and grieving strangers who filled St. Michael's Catholic Church for the funeral service.
At the time he wrote that letter, Straseskie could not have known he would become the first Wisconsin native to die in this action in Iraq. But his words predicted the bravery he would show by diving into a canal trying to save four Marines who crashed in a helicopter south of Baghdad on May 19.
"I do not want to die, it saddens me to think of what I would miss if I were killed," Straseskie wrote. "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."
Even before they heard or read those words from Straseskie's pen, those who knew and loved him recognized the courage and dedication he shared in his thoughts and actions.
Father William Key, who delivered the eulogy, said Straseskie embodied God's love through his sacrifice, dedication and generosity to others.
"Giving some of his time to help others was a way of life for this young man," Key said. "Clearly, he was an example of the Lord's teaching."
In his letter, Straseskie wrote that the children of his three brothers motivated him to serve and protect the country.
"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," he wrote. "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."
As Neuman read those words, a sob worked its way through Paula Beine's body. She stood in the back of the church with her own three children, two toddlers at her feet and an infant on her hip.
Beine never met Straseskie, nor any of his family, but she was drawn to the service from her home in West Bend by admiration and grief.
"He was an incredible young man . . . so brave, and he was a hero for all of us," Beine said. "He said he did this for his nieces and nephews, and I believe he was thinking of all the children of America, and I appreciate that."
The gratitude of strangers could be only a small comfort for John Straseskie as he stared at his son's casket. He supported his wife Barbara with one arm and his son's fiancee, Kate Klossner, with the other.
He stood solemnly and watched two Marine reserves from Madison carefully fold the U.S. flag that had covered the box that held his son.
And he took in the words 1st Sgt. Ron Christensen delivered with the flag:
"On behalf of the president of the United States and the commander of the Marine Corps, all Marines and a grateful nation, please accept this flag in memory of Kirk's honest and faithful service to his country and his corps. Semper Fi."
Straseskie took the flag, along with a box of his son's medals and official honors, then he turned and passed the flag to Klossner. She clutched it to her chest.
Even the words of comfort her fiance had written for just that moment could not hold back her tears.
"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."
- Kirk Straseskie in a letter written to his friend on Sept. 19, 2001
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