Remembering Michael: A father’s first year without his son

Mi­chael Strange, 25, was killed Au­gust 6, 2011, while on his third tour in Afgh­anistan. Strange, whose fath­er, Charlie, works for Sug­ar­House casino, will be honored with a me­mori­al statue on the casino’s grounds.

Charlie Strange still talks to his son Mi­chael every day. The fact that Mi­chael can’t re­spond doesn’t seem to mat­ter.

Charlie said he knows his son is listen­ing.

Navy Crypto­lo­gist Tech­ni­cian Petty Of­ficer 1st Class Mi­chael Strange, a 25-year-old gradu­ate of North Cath­ol­ic High School, was killed on Au­gust 6, 2011 when Taliban fight­ers shot down an Amer­ic­an Chinook heli­copter in East­ern Afgh­anistan, killing 30 Amer­ic­an sol­diers. It is con­sidered the greatest loss of life in the Afgh­anistan cam­paign. Mi­chael was on his third tour when he was killed. 

In the year since his son’s death, Charlie Strange said he’s been griev­ing.

“Some­times the pain be­comes so un­bear­able.” Strange said. “At times, I lit­er­ally feel like I’m go­ing to go in­sane. There are morn­ings when I get dressed and I get as far as that front door and have to stop be­cause I just can’t go out­side.”

He said, though, that he’s re­ceived an out­pour­ing of sup­port that gets him through the tough times. Strange was also over­joyed to learn of a spe­cial bit of news — in hon­or of Mi­chael and the oth­er Amer­ic­ans killed that day, Sug­ar­House Casino, along with the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict and vari­ous vet­er­ans’ groups, plan to erect the 8.6.11 War­ri­or Me­mori­al statue.

The casino has offered a site on its prop­erty for the statue on Colum­bus Boulevard between Penn’s Land­ing and the casino. A non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion is now be­ing formed to raise funds for the design and con­struc­tion of the me­mori­al. 

Along with the good news of the me­mori­al, Strange said he’s found sup­port in his cowork­ers at the casino and in his neigh­bors in the com­munity.

Mi­chael’s fath­er and sev­er­al oth­er fam­ily mem­bers have strong ties to Fishtown— Charlie has been work­ing as a table games deal­er at Sug­ar­House Casino since 2010. 

Mi­chael’s grand­moth­er Ber­nice lived there for many years and his aunt, Mag­gie O’Bri­en, still resides there and is pres­id­ent of the Fishtown Ac­tion Com­mit­tee.

Mi­chael Strange grew up in Wissi­nom­ing and at­ten­ded Saint Bartho­lomew Cath­ol­ic School, then went on to at­tend North­east Cath­ol­ic High School. Charlie Strange said his son was al­ways in­trigued by the mil­it­ary, so when Mi­chael told his fath­er he wanted to join the Navy, it was no sur­prise. After en­list­ing, Mi­chael stud­ied to be­come a crypto­lo­gic tech­ni­cian and gradu­ated third in his class.

In 2009, Mi­chael joined the Navy SEALs in a sup­port role. With his unique com­bin­a­tion of phys­ic­al stam­ina, cour­age and aptitude for code break­ing, he quickly ad­vanced to the Navy’s most elite SEAL Team, SEAL Team 6. That team was re­spons­ible for killing Al Qaeda lead­er Osama Bin Laden in May of last year.

Shortly after Mi­chael’s death last sum­mer, the Strange fam­ily was es­cor­ted by Phil­adelphia po­lice mo­tor­cade and mem­bers of the mo­tor­cycle group War­ri­or Watch to Het­zell’s field in Fishtown for the Fred­die Adams tour­na­ment, dur­ing which a me­mori­al ce­re­mony was held for Mi­chael. This was fol­lowed by a me­mori­al soft­ball game between the North Cath­ol­ic alumni team and the team rep­res­ent­ing SEAL Team 6.

These days when Charlie is not work­ing at the casino or spend­ing time with his fam­ily, he is work­ing on the Mi­chael Strange Me­mori­al Found­a­tion. 

The pur­pose of the found­a­tion is to provide emo­tion­al sup­port and as­sist­ance to the fam­il­ies of those vet­er­ans killed or in­jured in the Ir­aqi and Afgh­anistan wars.  In ad­di­tion to emo­tion­al sup­port, the found­a­tion will also of­fer fin­an­cial sup­port and schol­ar­ships.

When asked what he would say to his son if he could go back in time, Charlie paused for a mo­ment, fight­ing back tears.

“Don’t leave,” he said he would tell his son.

Re­port­er Greg Pacana can be reached at gp­pacana@ya­

For more in­form­a­tion on the me­mori­al, in­clud­ing in­form­a­tion on how to make a dona­tion, please vis­it

Dona­tions to the Mi­chael Strange Found­a­tion are tax-de­duct­ible and can be made on­line at


SEAL Team 6 mer­chand­ise is also avail­able on the web­site.

You can reach at

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