- 21 years old
- Date of birth: Dec 30, 1988
- Date of passing: Jan 11, 2010
|Let the memory of Nicholas be with us forever|
Respectful. Determined. Hardworker. Runner. Good kid. Dog lover. Christian. Yankees fan. Son, grandson, brother, cousin, nephew and friend. Fine young man. Those were the words mourners used to describe Marine Cpl. Nick Uzenski on Tuesday night at Franklin Central School during a service attended by more than 500 people.
The ceremony was simple, yet poignant. Christian readings and prayers mingled with memories.
There was no master of ceremonies and no paper program – just family and friends sharing their grief and their stories.
Uzenski, 21, was killed Jan. 11 along with two other Marines from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan, during an attack by insurgents in southern Afghanistan.
At the end of the ceremony and just before the playing of taps, the Marine’s mother, Lisa Uzenski of Sidney, was given her son’s Purple Heart by a contingent of Marines who helped coordinate the service.
Uzenski, who graduated from Franklin in 2006, will be buried later this week in Montana, where his father lives.
His mother calmly took the stage in the Franklin Central School cafetorium. “Nick was a true person raised by the community. He believed in what he wanted. And as you all know, he wanted to be a Marine,” Uzenski said.
Uzenski spoke to her son’s friends and classmates, many of whom sat together in their own section of the cafetorium’s floor. The fallen Marine was the senior prom king, captain of his varsity basketball team, a varsity baseball player and a member of several clubs at school. “He really loved you,” she said.
She named his closest friends, including Austin Babcock, with whom her son lived for a time. “Austin, he just adored you,” Uzenski said. “Zach ... Ben, Don. He just loved you all.”
After she finished speaking, Uzenski invited members of the audience to the stage to share their memories of her son.
One of those who took the podium was Dustin Rosen, a classmate of Uzenski’s at Tompkins County Community College, who gave a tearful eulogy tinged with humorous memories.
Rosen said the athletic Uzenski was surrounded by the typical college activity of drinking, but was not a drinker himself. Holding a bottled water at parties, Uzenski would find himself the center of attention of all the girls, Rosen said.
Others who spoke included his great-grandmother, great-uncle, a cousin, a former employer, basketball coach, aunt and uncle. Before the ceremony, at least two dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders, wearing leather and denim, lined both sides of the sidewalk leading to the school, with most holding American flags.
They stood at attention and only broke their silence when one of a handful of current military service members, who were in uniform, passed.
“Thanks for your service,” some of them said to the mourners. The Patriot Guard Riders are a volunteer group of veterans and others, who are often motorcycle riders, who attend the funerals of fallen service members at the request of the family to shield them from any protesters.
They did not need to fulfill that role.
Hundreds passed in between the two ranks of men and women. A Marine Corps flag was draped over the entranceway of the school.
An American flag and a Marine Corps flag were positioned on stage.
A squad of Marine noncomissioned officers was on hand to help guide people into the ceremony and later helped speakers to the stage. Two Marines, standing at attention, flanked a large photograph of Uzenski in his dress uniform placed in front of the stage.
Nearby were poster boards full of photographs from all stages of Uzenski’s life.
New York Yankees’ memorabilia also lined the stage, as well as Uzenski’s No. 14 Franklin basketball jersey, which was placed in a glass-fronted case.
The mourners filed oneby- one to pay their respects to Uzenski’s family and sign a banner before taking their seats.
During the ceremony, Lisa Uzenski asked all veterans to stand and be recognized. She also implored the members of the audience to do whatever they can to support the troops who are still in harm’s way.
Steady at the podium, Uzenski said she knew her son wouldn’t be forgotten: “I’ve been blessed for 21 years. He’s in my heart. I know he’s in yours.”
"Memorial Day 2016: A year after my son was discharged from the USMC, First Recon Bn in 2011, he first uttered Nick's name in my presence. Four the past four years I have had his name, and that of four other Marines who fell, on the wall by my desk. Every Memorial Day we read those names aloud and thank you for your ultimate sacrifice."
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