DUNKIRK - Central Avenue in Dunkirk was lined with hundreds of people, many holding American flags and others in military uniform, who came out to pay respects to fallen local soldier, U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan "Nathan" Gollnitz on Saturday afternoon.
Sgt. Gollnitz, a Fredonia native and graduate of Levant Christian School, was killed in Pul-E Alam, Afghanistan on Sept. 26 in a roadside bombing. Staff Sgt. Orion Sparks of Tucson, Ariz. was killed alongside him in the attack. Gollnitz was the 1,999th soldier to die in battle in Afghanistan. He was 28 years old.
Gollnitz served in the Navy for six years before enlisting in the Army to, in his words according to family and friends, "be closer to the action."
A memorial display in honor of Sgt. Gollnitz, whose ashes were interred in Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission, Texas.
Photo by Justin Goetz
In addition to friends, family and the hundred of civilian supporters in attendance, several hundred veterans of all branches of the military were organized by the American Legion to participate in the funeral services.
Junior Ortiz of Dunkirk, president of the Sons of Liberty, a motorcycle club comprised of veterans, was one of the supporters in attendance. "It's important for veterans to support veterans," Ortiz, a veteran of the Marines, explained. "We try to do whatever we can to support local veterans."
"It's the right thing to do," said Wayne Ashley, a veteran and Silver Creek resident who came to support the family.
Full military honors were performed during the ceremony, and most veterans appeared in uniform. The Dunkirk Joint Veterans Honor Guard presented an American flag to Gollnitz's family after "Taps" was played outside.
American Legion officers presented a resolution to the family of their "beloved comrade" and told them, "We will forever cherish him in our hearts."
The officers explained Gollnitz is now in post Everlasting of the American Legion.
Sgt. Jason Roberts came as a representative of the U.S. Army. "Grief is necessary. Grief is natural. It is not a sign of weakness. ... It is proof of the strength of the bond we have for those who are asleep," he said. He explained Gollnitz's "military family ... is going to be there for you in the end. These are outstanding people who came out to support you."
Roberts also read from letters written by soldiers who knew Gollnitz personally and fought alongside him. "He always led from the front," Pfc. Dean Feinstein said in a letter, and added, "Your son will never be forgotten."
Two representatives of the Blue Star Mothers, a support group for those who have lost children to combat, also presented the family with thoughts and a commemorative token.
The Rev. Roger Eimers, Sr., former pastor of the fallen soldier, officiated. He introduced Holly Payne, who sang "I Can Only Imagine" while also signing the words. Eimers later spoke of his time knowing Gollnitz, who was close friends with his youngest son, Joshua.
Minnie Gollnitz, Jonathan's grandmother, addressed the mourners present, and them about her grandson. "He was a very energetic little boy," she said. "At a very young age, he started telling everyone that he wanted to join the Navy."
She said she was very proud of Jonathan when his grandfather died. "I will never forget the way he saluted his grandpa," at the funeral, Minnie Gollnitz said.
Joshua Eimers also spoke, tearfully, of his friendship with Gollnitz and times they spent together over the years. "He's made a huge impact on so many of us. He was a loyal friend ... and always there for me. There was never a time he didn't end a conversation with 'I love you,'" a sentiment also shared by his grandmother.
In addition to the local service, military service with full honors was held in Mission, Texas on Monday, Oct. 8, when his ashes were interred at the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery.