An Empty Chair

A sorrowful ending to a wonderful story is the way WIBC radio host John Cimasko describes his recent experience with the family of Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley, a dedicated Colts fan who lost his life while serving his country.

It was like a movie. It just didn't seem real. As the long line of people slowly moved towards the entrance of the high school auditorium, I kept reflecting on the chain of events that brought me to Avon High School on this warm Wednesday evening thinking about this sorrowful ending to a wonderful story.

A couple of months ago I invited Janice Schauwecker to join us on our radio show and tell us about her son, Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley, who was serving his country in Iraq. Blakley was shot in the shoulder on January 16th, the very same day that his beloved Colts were losing to the Steelers in their opening playoff game. Not a good day for Staff Sgt. Blakley, and to make it even worse, his Colts t-shirt that he wore under his uniform was full of blood. I am certainly not downplaying the seriousness of his battle wound, but the condition of his t-shirt was of such great importance to Richard that he sent it home to Janice to see if she could get the blood out.

After Janice washed out what she could, she thought that maybe somehow she could get a Colt's player or two to autograph the bloodstained shirt for her son. She contacted her friend, Ralph "Zoc" Zoccolillo who spoke with the Colts front office about the idea of an autograph or two. As Zoc told us that Sunday evening on our show, the Colts decided that an autograph or two wouldn't be enough; they would have the entire team sign the bloodied t-shirt, and present it personally to Staff Sargent Blakley in front of 56,000 plus Colts' fans during halftime of a home game later this autumn. After that evening's show, I told Janice that she would have to come by the studio that Sunday evening with her son, as I wanted to meet him, thank him, and have him tell his story.

While out at the Colt's complex over draft day weekend, I had the opportunity to see Blakley's t-shirt, folded neatly, bloodstained, with a distinct bullet hole through the shoulder.

Yes, it was as sobering as you are thinking it was.

Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley will be honored earlier than first thought. The ceremony will take place on September 17th, at halftime of the Colts-Texans game. Blakley was killed in Iraq on June 6th, the result of small arms fire. That is what brought me to the high school auditorium in Avon, Indiana last Wednesday evening. I just wanted to say thank you to a man that I would no longer have the opportunity to meet.

As I entered the auditorium and looked beyond the long line of people, up to the front, to the stage, I knew that this was real life; this was no movie. There lay Staff Sgt. Blakley, a flag draped coffin, a mannequin like soldier on each side, a huge white horseshoe of flowers distinctly off to the side; Janice and her family accepting condolences from the hundreds and hundreds of us who needed to be there.

I expressed my deepest sympathy to the family, and told Janice that on the evening of September 17th, she and the rest of Richard's family are welcomed to come into our studio and be our honored guests. I know, in the grand scheme of things it isn't much, but it is what I can offer.

And as we sit in the studio that Sunday evening, one chair will remain empty...

John Cimasko talks about the Colts and other Indiana area sports every Sunday night on The Jersey Johnny Show on WIBC. Click the link to learn more about his show and how to listen in live via the internet.

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