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Family pays tribute to Hollis Marine

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Marine Lance Cpl. Leopold F. Damas was a model brother, son and friend who never failed to make those who loved him laugh and who died doing what he had dreamed of for much of his life — being a Marine — family and friends said at Saturday’s funeral for the 26-year-old soldier from Floral Park.

“He was a great guy, a hero,” said his sister, Magali Damas, 45, of Harlem. “He really believed in the Marines. He did what he needed to do to serve our country.”

Damas, who was originally from Haiti and had lived with his mother and siblings in Hollis and Floral Park, died Aug. 17 during a combat operation in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, according to the U.S. Marine Corps. He had been stationed in Afghanistan since May and served as a rifleman with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

As a group of Marines brought Damas’ casket into St. Joachim and Anne Roman Catholic Church in Queens Village Saturday, family and friends lined the church’s steps and entryway, many crying as they remembered a man who they said would do anything for the people, and country, he loved.

“He was the most cheerful person you’d ever meet,” said Damas’ friend, April Ortega, of Bellerose. “He was always joking. He was an all-around good guy.”

Manuel Franco, who attended Newtown High School with Damas, said his friend always spoke ofbecoming a Marine in high school. Franco said Damas was elated when he joined the corps in 2006.

“He really loved the military,” Franco said. “It meant the world to him. He was very smart, very cool and always happy.”

Damas, who was single and had no children, had volunteered for the tour in Afghanistan after two stints in Iraq, from March 2007 to September 2007 and July 2008 to February 2009. The Queens native wanted to use the money from the tour to buy a house for his mother, Carol, who suffers from chronic health problems, Damas’ best friend, Sgt. Archieval Ortega, told TimesLedger Newspapers last week.

The Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, who gave the eulogy Saturday, told those at the funeral to draw strength from their faith.

“Let the tears flow from the fact that death has taken Leo so soon, but don’t let those tears turn to despair,” Ruiz said during the service that was held in French and English. “May God console us in his faithfulness.”

This August has been the deadliest months for U.S. forces in the nearly eight-year war in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported. Forty-five Americans have died in the country in August as of Aug. 29, bringing the total number of U.S. deaths to at least 732 since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the AP said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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