Spotswood statue of fallen soldier bring attention to veterans awareness

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SPOTSWOOD  To honor a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, Mayor Edward Seely approved the placement of a statute of SSG Michael Ollis in front of American Legion Post 253.

Ollis was the brother of resident Kimberly Ollis-Loschiavo, who has lived in the borough with her husband since 2001. Serving in the U.S. Army as a ranger and paratrooper, Ollis was killed on Aug. 28, 2013, in Afghanistan. He was 24 years old, according to Loshiavo.

Created by artist Gregory Perillo and sculptor Brian Hanlon of Hanlon Studio, Hanlon offered that the statute of Ollis be used as part of a moving exhibit to help build veteran awareness, according to Loschiavo.

The statute was placed on May 26 in front of the American Legion Post 253, located at 50 Devoe Ave., and will remain there until July 10, according to Seely.

“The statue is a tribute to SSG Ollis and what he stood for. He was the epitome of what we as soldiers are, defenders of freedom against all odds and at all costs. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for others fully understanding the dangers. To us and many others he is a true hero. God bless him and those he has left behind,” Seely said.

Ollis was in charge of a Polish forward operating base following closing orders and assisting the Polish Army on Ghanzi Providence, Afghanistan, the night of Aug. 28, 2013, when two vans of Afghan insurgents breached the forward operating base, invading the base using suicide vests and mortars, according to Loshiavo.

“My brother was in charge of placing his men in position inside a bunker on base. While he ordered his men to dress, get armed and prepare for war, he fought with one round of ammunition wearing casual dress in an Army combat uniform. Michael chose to leave his men to assist special forces soldiers and a Polish lieutenant, which were defending the base. Michael was recognized for his bravery when he protected the Polish lieutenant by shielding him from the last blast of the insurgents. The blast and loss of blood from a tourniquet on his arm resulted in Michael’s death,” Loshiavo said.

Ollis has been awarded the U.S. Bronze Star, Purple Heart, informally the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Audie Murphy Award. He has also received Poland’s highest army medal for his acts of bravery posthumously, according to Loshiavo.

Ollis’ story continues to be told internationally in Poland by the Polish lieutenant he saved. There is also an HBO series entitled “Got Your Six” which will share his story sometime next year, according to Loshiavo.

“‘Michael bled green’ is what my father always said. He had a passion for the Army lifestyle as young as six. When he would dress up in his child Army combat uniform, he’d use my mother’s black eyeliner under his eyes, toy gun in hand, and hide in the bushes to ambush my sister and I as we would walk home from school. As he grew older, he would constantly ask my dad about Vietnam. My dad, grandfathers and uncles trace back to serving in the U.S. Army since the Civil War. Michael was also an Air Force ROTC cadet in high school,” Loschiavo said.

Ollis and Loschiavo grew up in Staten Island, New York. After his death, the U.S. Veterans Association’s Staten Island branch began fundraising for a statute of Ollis as early as 2013. Last November, a veteran memorial was placed at the campus of his former high school, Michael Petrides School on Staten Island. An additional statute was created and placed in Toms River, according to Loshiavo.

“Since then, Hanlon has offered the statute to be used as a moving exhibit to help build veteran awareness. It is our hope to continue to move the statute to other New Jersey towns and ultimately donate it to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton,” Loshiavo said.

In order to have the statute of Ollis placed in front of American Legion Post 253, Loshchiavo secured permission from Seely and from officials at the post.
“[SSG Ollis] was a veteran who spent a lot of time in Spotswood and we thought it would be a great idea to have the statue of him place in front of the post,” William Baum, American Legion Post 253 commander said.
“My family and I were thrilled Mayor Seely approved the decision to host Michael’s statute in time for Memorial Day. It helps us to know Michael’s story will continue to be told and it is important for us to let other Americans know how high the cost of freedom really is. We hope Michael’s statute will be another symbol of freedom that many Americans can be inspired by,” Loshiavo said.
For more information, visit www.ssgollis.org.
Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.