Northeast Times

‘It hurts so bad’

Friends and fam­ily battle the pain from the loss of a great sol­dier killed in a hor­rif­ic at­tack in Afgh­anistan.

The mourn­ing is wide­spread for U.S. Navy Petty Of­ficer 1st Class Mi­chael Strange.

Strange, who was among 38 killed Sat­urday when their heli­copter was shot down by in­sur­gents in Afgh­anistan, is be­ing re­membered by those in his nat­ive Wissi­nom­ing, his class­mates at St. Bartho­lomew and North Cath­ol­ic High School and his par­ents, broth­er, sis­ters and oth­er fam­ily mem­bers.

“It hurts so bad,” said Charlie Strange, his fath­er.

Strange, 25, grew up on the 6100 block of Al­gard St. He was a typ­ic­al kid, play­ing foot­ball for Wissi­nom­ing Boys Club and base­ball for the May­fair Sham­rocks.

He en­joyed fish­ing and crab­bing with his dad and broth­er in Re­ho­both Beach, Del. He worked a couple of years at the pop­u­lar Byrne’s Tav­ern in Port Rich­mond, serving at times as “the wing guy” and “the crab guy.”

By his seni­or year at North Cath­ol­ic, where he played rugby, he was talk­ing about join­ing the mil­it­ary. He signed up in Au­gust 2004, two months after gradu­at­ing.

In his sev­en years, he was de­ployed once to Ir­aq and three times to Afgh­anistan.

“You al­ways worry,” his dad said Monday from his Academy Road apart­ment.

Strange had dreams bey­ond the Navy, where he ex­pec­ted to spend an­oth­er three years. He was en­gaged to be mar­ried to Breanna Hostetler, an Ok­laho­man and fel­low Navy re­cruit who left the ser­vice after her four-year com­mit­ment. The two bought a home in Vir­gin­ia Beach, and she was study­ing psy­cho­logy at Old Domin­ion Uni­versity. He was pur­su­ing an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in the Navy, tak­ing on­line courses, and planned to be­come a nurse.

Not too long ago, Mi­chael and “Bre” vis­ited Phil­adelphia.

“He was sit­ting right here in June,” his fath­er said from his sofa. “He came home for his birth­day.”

While he was home, he liked to eat at Nifty Fifty’s and talk about sports and the mil­it­ary in gen­er­al. He had an in­form­al go­ing-away party at the Ashton Pub last time he was in town.

Away from home, Strange of­ten com­mu­nic­ated with his fam­ily and friends through e-mail, al­ways as­sur­ing them that he was safe. He wel­comed their vis­its when he was sta­tioned in Hawaii and treas­ured the care pack­ages from loved ones.

In the Navy, he was a mem­ber of the pres­ti­gi­ous SEAL Team, a spe­cial op­er­a­tions force known for its abil­ity on the sea, in the air and on land. His fath­er re­calls him re­cently break­ing a 25-year re­cord in a triath­lon that re­quired him to run, swim and nav­ig­ate an obstacle course.

“He was in tre­mend­ous shape,” his dad said.

Of course, the SEALs are best known re­cently for killing Osama bin Laden in a sur­prise raid on his com­pound in Pakistan.

None of the SEALs killed last week were part of that op­er­a­tion. When fam­ily and friends would ask Strange about that in­cid­ent or oth­er spe­cif­ics about his job, he’d change the sub­ject and ask, “Did the Phil­lies win?”

On Sat­urday, Strange was among 30 Amer­ic­an troops, sev­en Afgh­ani com­mandos and a ci­vil­ian in­ter­pret­er who were on a Chinook heli­copter trav­el­ing to a re­mote loc­a­tion in east­ern Afgh­anistan.

The men were en route to as­sist­ing spe­cial op­er­a­tion forces in search of a Taliban lead­er and en­gaged in a fire­fight with in­sur­gents. A rock­et-pro­pelled gren­ade hit the copter as it was land­ing, killing all on board.

The Amer­ic­an cas­u­al­ties con­sisted of 22 SEALs, three Air Force spe­cial op­er­a­tions air­men and five Army avi­at­ors. It was the biggest single loss of life for U.S. forces since the war in Afgh­anistan star­ted in 2001 fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Amer­ica on Sept. 11 of that year.

Mil­it­ary per­son­nel traveled to the 7900 block of Marsden St. in Holmes­burg, where Strange’s moth­er Betsy, 22-year-old broth­er Chaz and 21-year-old sis­ter Katelyn live, to de­liv­er the sad news.

Betsy Strange is a po­lice of­ficer in North Phil­adelphia’s 22nd dis­trict, and a patrol wag­on sits out­side the rowhome as well-wish­ers come in and out. The home’s ex­ter­i­or is ad­orned with Amer­ic­an flags.

Charlie Strange, who deals cards at Sug­ar­House Casino, wel­comed many fam­ily and friends in­to his home fol­low­ing the tragedy.

The griev­ing fath­er also re­ceived tele­phone calls and text mes­sages. He ap­pre­ci­ates the out­reach by friends from his nat­ive Felton­ville, former class­mates at St. Am­brose and Car­din­al Dougherty and cur­rent and former co-work­ers at Sug­ar­House and the Laborers uni­on.

“It’s been un­be­liev­able,” he said.

Mag­gie O’Bri­en, Mi­chael Strange’s aunt, re­called her neph­ew’s in­tel­li­gence and nice smile.

“Every­body was ex­tremely proud of him,” she said.

Eileen Ma­honey, his great-aunt, re­membered a young man who liked to ski and snow­board and was an all-around good per­son.

“Whatever he did, he did to the best of his abil­ity,” she said. “Mi­chael was very wise for his years. He was a very mor­al kid and very pro­tect­ive of his young­er sis­ters and broth­er.”

Among those who vis­ited Charlie Strange on Monday were SEALs who served with his son.

“They loved him,” he said.

Strange’s fam­ily — the fallen sol­dier also has a 7-year-old sis­ter Carly and a 9-month-old niece Ju­li­ana — traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tues­day for what the mil­it­ary tra­di­tion­ally calls “dig­ni­fied trans­fers.”

Typ­ic­ally, the somber mil­it­ary ritu­al is open to the news me­dia, as long as fam­il­ies do not ob­ject. However, the De­part­ment of De­fense kept the event private be­cause the re­mains are uniden­ti­fi­able un­til a closer ex­am­in­a­tion by the mor­tu­ary at Dover.

Pres­id­ent Barack Obama and Sec­ret­ary of De­fense Le­on Pan­etta at­ten­ded.

Fu­ner­al plans for Strange were in­com­plete as the Times went to press.

Charlie Strange was happy to see his three old­est chil­dren, so close in age, re­main a tight-knit group, even after Mi­chael joined the Navy.

When asked what he’ll miss most about his son, he replied, “Just hanging out with him.”

“He loved Phil­adelphia and cheesesteaks,” he said. “He fought for his coun­try and loved what he did. He loved be­ing a Navy SEAL. He didn’t die on a street corner or in a bar­room brawl. He gave the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice.”

Charlie Strange un­der­stands that U.S. mil­it­ary troops need to be in places such as Afgh­anistan and Ir­aq to keep en­emies of the na­tion from bring­ing the war to this coun­try. He fa­vors much more as­sert­ive ac­tion.

“Wipe them all out,” he said. “Kill them all, the kids, every­body. You’ll nev­er change them people.”

Strange is be­ing honored in many ways.

A wreath and Amer­ic­an flags have been placed on the doors of North Cath­ol­ic, which closed last year.

Mick’s Inn, a bar in Port Rich­mond, has named its soft­ball team “SEAL Team 6 Mi­chael Strange” for this week­end’s Freddy Adams Sports Tour­na­ment in Fishtown.

Two Face­book pages have been cre­ated to hon­or the fallen sol­dier. Al­most 12,000 people “like” the pages “In Memory of Navy SEAL Mi­chael Strange” and “R.I.P. Hero Mi­chael Strange.”

“Fam­ily will nev­er be the same without you,” his cous­in, Gina McGlynn, wrote on one of the pages.

Kev­in Flynn wrote, “Fair winds and fol­low­ing seas Mi­chael. Thanks for your ser­vice from a grate­ful na­tion.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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