Tuesday, March 08, 2005
It was a tribute fit for a hero.
Hundreds of police and military officials from all 50 states and Canada paid their respects Monday to slain U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Andy Nowacki.
The 24-year-old Painesville Township resident, who was also a Grand River policeman, was killed in action Feb. 26 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
In keeping with the soldier's constantly upbeat personality, the funeral Mass at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Concord Township was more a celebration of his life than the mourning of his death.
The Rev. Jerome Duke - the man who baptised Nowacki as a newborn - gave the homily at his funeral. "A friend once asked him, 'Andy, what's with you? Why are you always so happy?' Andy told him, 'There's nothing to be unhappy about,' " the reverend said.
Duke got the grieving crowd to chuckle when he recalled how Nowacki gave himself the nickname Ace while attending Brush High School in Lyndhurst.
When Nowacki and some friends met some college girls at the former Eastgate Coliseum, he inexplicably introduced himself as "Ace, from the school of hard knocks."
For some reason, the name stuck, and even teachers started calling him Ace.
Several friends and family members showed up at the church service with yellow ribbons on their arms emblazoned with the nickname.
But the self-given nickname was only the beginning of Nowacki's unique sense of humor.
As a Grand River patrolman, he decided to spruce up his patrol vehicle with fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror and smiley-face stickers on the back seat so those carted off to jail could get a laugh.
And although he could be tough when need be, Nowacki rarely wrote a traffic ticket - "unless the person he stopped was a real jerk," Duke said.
"He thought it wasn't his job to hurt people, but to educate," the reverend said.
The serious side of Nowacki loved children and animals, and was close to both his biological family and his clans at the Grand River Police Department and in the U.S. Marines.
"He was like family to us," Grand River Police Chief Robert Antonelli said.
Nowacki also was loved by the Iraqi people and their children.
"Andy totally believed in what he was doing," Duke said. "The night before he died, he told his mother he was going back for a third tour of duty."
Nowacki - who was injured during his first stint in Iraq in an eerily similar incident, while on Humvee patrol in the fall of 2003 - was supposed to come home April 1.
"Andy risked his life so we could have freedom and justice in the world," said the Rev. Frederick Pausche of St. Gabriel.
Before the service, the Marines gave Nowacki's parents, Denis and Sheila, a posthumous Purple Heart for their son's sacrifice.
After the Mass, Nowacki's body was laid to rest at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon Township.
As an estimated 400 police, military and citizens' cars made the hour-and-a-half-long trip to the cemetery, numerous residents from Lake and Geauga counties expressed their gratitude to the soldier for paying the ultimate price.
Crowds of flag-waving people waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to the procession in various spots in Mentor and Grand River.
A young mother and her toddler son - clutching a Teddy bear dressed in red, white and blue - stood in their King Memorial Road driveway cheering for police as the cars drove by.
Businesses along the procession route put out signs exclaiming, "God Bless Andy Nowacki."
Firefighters stood outside their trucks at attention.
"We would like to thank all of the citizens who came out and showed their respects to the fallen hero," said Ed Drum, commander of the Willoughby American Legion Palmer-Roberts Post 214, after the burial.
But perhaps what Nowacki would want most of all is for others to share his secret for a happy - albeit too short - life.
"Smile," Duke said. "As Andy always says, there is nothing to be unhappy about. Life is great. Life is beautiful and life is eternal. So smile."