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Hundreds attend service for Marine from Colts Neck

COLTS NECK – Several hundred people made their way to Colts Neck High School on the overcast morning of July 25 to pay their respects to U.S. Marine Cpl. Daniel I. Baldassare.

Baldassare, 20, was among 15 Marines and one Navy sailor who died when the military plane on which they were traveling crashed in Itta Bena, Miss., on the afternoon of July 10.

A moving, emotional memorial service for Baldassare was held on the football field where the young man played for the Cougars and from where he graduated high school in 2015.

In addressing the audience, Colts Neck Mayor Russell Macnow said, “As those of us in civilian life go about our business every day, the men and women of the United States armed forces selflessly put their lives on the line to make sure that we in future generations will have the ability to live our lives free from those that do us harm.

“As Americans, every time we hear of the loss of a service member, we lose a little piece of ourselves. When that loss occurs in your hometown, especially one as small as Colts Neck, that loss is so much more profound,” Macnow said.

“Danny, when I think of you, I cherish the times we laughed together,” said Baldassare’s aunt, Adriana Cordaro. “You made everyone so proud of your accomplishments and you were driven to be the best man you can be. Remember, Daniel is our hero who accomplished so much to make everybody’s life better. Our hero, my nephew, my hero.”

Cordano noted that the memorial service for her nephew took place on the one-year anniversary of his grandmother’s service.

“He’s in good hands,” Cordano said. “His grandparents are waiting.”

According to Steven Grayson, his cousin, Baldassare had wanted to become a Marine since he was in middle school.

In describing the person he called his closest cousin, Grayson told the audience that Baldassare taught him to be strong and brave. When they visited their dying grandmother, Grayson said that unlike him, Baldassare did not cry, but instead shared a tender conversation with their grandmother.

“I will remember you as a hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country,” he said. “I love you like a brother.”

Three of Baldassare’s fellow Marines, LTC Joshua Izenhour, Sgt. Andrew Poucher and LCPL Louis Martia, shared their experiences with Baldassare and reflected positively on their time together.

Izenhour, who was Baldassare’s commanding officer, praised the young man’s conduct and discipline.

“Dan was the epitome of what a Marine is,” Izenhour said. “He was always respectful and studious.”

He spoke of Baldassare going fly-fishing with other Marines in Alaska and informed those in attendance that Baldassare was the only one who caught any fish. He joked that the other Marines tried to claim they caught Baldassare’s fish by taking pictures with the fish.

“Daniel will always be a United States Marine,” Izenhour said.

Poucher, who was Baldassare’s training officer, described the young man’s “big, goofy smile” as the first thing that came to mind with Dan, which Poucher said won him over.

“Dan had a particular laughter,” Poucher said. “He truly did enjoy laughing and being with us. He had a jovial attitude, always smiling and loving life.”

The sergeant also discussed Baldassare’s hairstyle, which Baldassare claimed not to use hair products on, despite Poucher’s doubts.

“Dan, that face is etched in the brain and not going anywhere,” he said. “There is a massive chunk missing in the unit. I always view him as a friend, brother and fellow Marine.”

Marita spoke about meeting Baldassare during training and described for those in attendance how he would help others.

“He was a really great guy and I will miss him,” Marita said. “He was open-hearted and took me under his wing. I will never forget that.”

Baldassare’s girlfriend Devin Goldring described seeing him for the first time while she was training for field hockey on the high school track and he was at football practice. Not long afterward, the two sat next to each other in their art class.

“He always tried to make me laugh instead of doing his work,” Goldring said.

She told the audience they spent most of their time at the beach and recounted a story when Baldassare accidentally broke her foot. Baldassare ran off to buy water to keep her hydrated, but by the time he returned he had inadvertently drank the entire bottle of water.

“He wasn’t perfect, but he was one who always tried his best,” Goldring said.

Goldring also made note of the affection Baldassare showed for her dog, despite being allergic, and mentioned that even though his face would swell up, he always tried to make her dog happy.

“Dan was the greatest man I loved,” she said. “Dan, you were the best friend I could ask for.”

Baldassare’s friend Aaron Manzo called him a “brilliant soul” and said most of the greatest moments in his life involved Baldassare.

“Dan caused adventure in conversation,” Manzo said. “We had wonderful conversations that I will never forget.”

Manzo also praised his friend’s service to his country.

“He had an honorable talent,” Manzo said. “He fulfilled what he thought was his personal duty. Nothing at all can replace Dan Baldassare, my brother.”

The final speaker was Mark Mallach, Baldassare’s godfather, who served in the U.S. Army.

“Words cannot describe the pride and honor of him becoming a Marine,” Mallach said. “He was dedicated to family and country. He is not only ours, but he belongs to to the community, to the state, to the country.”

As part of his speech, Mallach read a poem entitled “Freedom isn’t Free,” which described the sacrifices military personnel make for their country.

“Where do we find men and women like Dan?” he asked the audience. “When we need them the most.”

The memorial service at the high school was attended by Baldassare’s family members and friends, and by members of the public who wanted to pay their respects to the young warrior.

Members of the Colts Neck Township Committee, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, representatives of the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, and emergency services personnel from Farmingdale, Howell, Marlboro, Middletown, Oakhurst and Freehold were in attendance.

Later on the afternoon of July 25, Baldassare was laid to rest in the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery, North Hanover Township, Burlington County.

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