SPOTSWOOD, NJ — For many Americans, Memorial Day is a day away from school and work. It's the unofficial start of summer across the United States and means picnics, parades and pool openings. However, for military families, Memorial Day takes on a different meaning especially those who have lost servicemen and women in the line of duty.
That was the case on May 29, when a statue was unveiled at American Legion Post 253 in Spotswood. The statue will depict Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, the brother of Spotswood resident Kim Ollis-Loschiavo. He was killed on August 28, 2013 in Afghanistan, just two months before he was due home. He was 24 years old.
Ollis' operating base was attacked by insurgent forces. The soldier stepped in front of a wounded Polish officer to shield him from an insurgent outfitted in a suicide vest. Ollis, who always wanted to be a soldier like his dad and grandfathers, did not survive. He was awarded the Polish Gold Star Medal of Honor. It's the highest military award the Polish government bestows. The Staten Island native was also awarded the Afghani Star. Posthumously, the U.S. government honored Ollis' sacrifice and service with the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Audie Murphy Medallion.
Spotswood Mayor Ed Seely and Councilwoman Marge Drozd were instrumental in helping Ollis-Loschiavo bring the statue of her brother to American Legion Post 253. The statue was designed by Staten Island artist Gregory Perillo and sculpted by Toms River's Brian Hanlon.
"Memorial Day growing up has always been a celebration of summer; soccer tournaments and spending time with family and friends. When my brother enlisted, we continued our festivities and also took part in Memorial Day parades and honoring military officers during Fleet Week," Ollis-Loschiavo said. "My father, who served in the Vietnam War, is quite active with the VFW and American Legion on Staten Island. I have also participated in runs to honor and remember our service members and their ultimate sacrifice. Since my brothers passing, we have, as as family, worked to tell his story and teach other Americans about Gold Star families. These actions hopefully will build awareness to educate Americans about the strength and fragility of democracy and the importance to protect it at all costs."
Ollis enlisted in the Army at age 17 upon his graduation from Petrides High School in Staten Island. However, Spotswood was a second home to the soldier as he returned to the borough to spend time with his sister and her family.
"Being able to share Michael's story and his statute has been an overwhelming experience," Ollis-Loschiavo said. "I am so grateful to our town for welcoming my family and treating us like we have grown up here all of our lives. My family is truly blessed to be accepted into such a patriotic, public serving community that values serving others before themselves."
Ollis' ultimate sacrifice received both national and international attention at the time of his death. The family set up the SSG Michael Ollis Freedom Foundation in his memory and to support veterans, their families and veteran-related causes. They will hold their first 5K run and festival on June 10 in New Dorp, New York.
Ollis' statue will be unveiled in a special ceremony on Monday, May 29 at 2 p.m. American Legion Post 253 on 50 DeVoe Avenue in Spotswood, just as the borough's annual Memorial Day Parade kicks off at Schweitzer Mauduet on Main Street.
"I hope every American realizes freedom is a choice that should not be taken for granted," Ollis-Loschiavo said. "If it was not for our military and their families, who else would step up to defend our freedoms?"