Nickolas Schiavoni’s baby girl needed heart surgery, and the young Haverhill father had no health insurance for his family. He had lost his waterproofing job, and struggled to find new work.
So he enlisted in the Marines.
“He wanted his daughter to be able to get the operation,” said his father, David Schiavoni. “He needed a decent job, and it paid well.”
His toddler daughter had successful surgery to repair a hole in her heart. But her father did not live to see her grow up.
The Marine lance corporal, 26, was killed near Al Karmah, Iraq, on Nov. 15, 2005. He left a wife and two children, who now live out of state. He was on his second tour of duty.
“His leg was blown off. His arm was blown off. They had to retrieve other [body] parts,” said his father, David Schiavoni, citing a field report given to him by the Marines. “The world doesn’t hear about how they die. I just wonder, ‘What were his last thoughts?’ As a parent, you want to know that.”
Nickolas and his younger sister, Vanessa, were children of Schiavoni and his former wife, Stephany Kern. The family no longer lives in Haverhill. But the city honored Nickolas’s sacrifice with a memorial marker installed last fall on a grassy strip along Route 97.
His grandfather, David Swartz, a former Haverhill city councilor and state representative, had Nickolas remembered at a peace vigil in Newburyport. He also was trying to have a bridge in Haverhill named for his grandson before he died three years ago, Schiavoni said.
“It would be nice if that happened,” said Schiavoni, 59.“That would kind of make me proud.”
He remembers “Nicky” as a playful boy, eating a messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich or tossing his baseball glove in the air.
“I always think of him as a little kid,” he said.
As a teenager, Nickolas struggled with his parents’ divorce.
“I asked him once, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and he said, ‘Actually, Dad, no. I prayed for you and mom to get back together. It didn’t happen.’ It was sad to hear.”
He briefly dropped out of high school before earning a diploma from an alternative school.
“He had a difficult time academically,” his father said. “Nicky was real quiet. He never had anything bad to say about anyone.”
But he was a brave Marine who did not shun his duty, even when his father urged him not to return for a second tour.
“He said over the phone, ‘Dad, I have to go. I never completed anything. This is the one thing I can complete for my family. I have to do it.’ ”
David feared for his son’s safety.
“There was more stuff on the news that worried me,” Schiavoni recalled. “You were hearing about dead soldiers and seeing pictures. . . . It was disturbing.”
Nickolas may have foreseen his fate, his father said.
“He communicated with us that he was having a rough time in Iraq,” he said. “He said something like ‘My friends are dying all around me.’ ”
Nickolas was killed by a suicide bomber while he was patrolling for Iraqi insurgents. More than 500 people filled Haverhill’s St. James Church for his funeral. He is buried at St. James Cemetery near his grandparents. David Schiavoni visits his son’s grave, but not on Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day brings back the hard memories,” he said. “I am proud of my son. People remember on certain days, and for me, it’s every day.”