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Schumer presses for Medal of Honor for Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis: ‘Best our nation has to offer’

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis previously deployed to Iraq, from April 2008 to May 2009, and to Afghanistan, from June 2010 to May 2011. Ollis deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2013, and was killed Aug. 28, 2013, defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni. (Fort Drum Public Affairs/Released)

It’s been almost a decade in the making, but the push to have the nation’s highest military honor bestowed on a Staten Island hero gainned its biggest ally Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter Tuesday to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville asking the U.S. Department of Defense to recommend Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis for the Medal of Honor.

Ollis, a life-long New Dorp resident, died in Aug. 2013 at age 24 while saving a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber during a raid on Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan.

“Staff Sergeant Michael Ollis was among the best that our nation has to offer,” Schumer wrote in the letter.

“He is the quintessence of what it means to be American, and his life is a testament to the values of the U.S. Army and the United States of America.”

If successful, Ollis’ Distinguished Service Cross would be upgraded to the nation’s highest military honor, and mark his latest award. His Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded from the Silver Star in 2019.

Ollis also posthumously received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Audie Murphy Medallion, and the Polish Armed Forces Gold Medal — that nation’s highest honor for non-citizens.

Ollis’ father, Bob Ollis, said Tuesday that he was grateful to Schumer for his support in the push that began shortly after his son’s death.

“We’re feeling very positive on it, and this has been the best feeling we’ve had since it started,” Ollis, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said. “He was a great person and a great soldier.”

He noted that it had been a long process with continuous investigation, but that meant if he’s ultimately awarded the Medal of Honor, it would be something he undoubtedly deserves. If he receives the honor, Ollis would become the third recipient from Staten Island.

The Rev. Lt. Vincent R. Capodanno received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for his service during the Vietnam War, and Joseph F. Merrell Jr. received the award in 1946 for his service during World War II.

On the day of his death, insurgents attacked Ollis’ compound starting with a car-bomb explosion. During the attack, he joined Polish Army officer, Lt. (ret.) Karol Cierpica in an effort to hold off the incoming enemy forces, according to the Army’s account.

When a suicide bomber approached the duo, Ollis put himself between the insurgent and Cierpica, who sustained injuries in both legs during the attack and was unable to walk. As Ollis held off the attacker, the suicide vest detonated killing the Staten Islander.

Ollis’ father said Tuesday that he hopes the DOD considers the entirety of his son’s fighting the day he died and not just the incident that killed him.

In addition to the military honor, Poland has honored Ollis in a variety of ways. Last week, the Polish town of Bydgoszcz dedicated a local school program to his legacy, according to a U.S. Army report.

Locally, Ollis has received a number of honors around the city. The Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Oakwood, along with the athletic field at the Michael J. Petrides School — Ollis’ alma mater — are named in his honor.

In one of the most notable tributes, the city chose to name the newest class of Staten Island Ferries in his honor, and one of the ferries is named after him. Ollis’ father said Tuesday how important the continued recognition is to the family.

“It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s wonderful for the city of New York to have honored Michael by naming the ferry after him,” Michael’s father said. “His legacy is going to continue and that’s all can you can ask for as a parent.”


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