By Dan Walk
To Meadville resident James Bliscik, Pennsylvania National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Robert Fike of Conneautville was peerless and can never be forgotten. So Bliscik came up with a unique way to honor the fallen soldier in the form of a pumpkin carving which was recently set in front of the Crawford County Courthouse’s memorial wall.
“He’s always on our mind, all the time,” Bliscik said. “We usually try to keep a photo and memorial in front of the courthouse. We just thought it would be something different to catch people’s attention to the memorial there.”
Fike was killed by a suicide bomber while on patrol on June 11, 2010, in Zabul, Afghanistan, while serving with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His passing left behind a 12-year-old daughter Mackenzie Fike-Bliscik, who is now 14, and her mother, Kelly Bliscik. Kelly is James’ daughter and Mackenzie is his granddaughter.
Though James Bliscik isn’t directly related to Fike, he sees Fike as his son-in-law.
“We’ve been friends with Bob for 16 years,” Bliscik said. “We’ve known Bob for a long time.”
The carving depicts the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross, which includes the helmet, rifle and boots forming a soldier’s cross.
Bliscik, who has been carving pumpkins for about 35 years now, said it took him around an hour an a half to complete the memorial. Though he’s been performing the Halloween tradition of carving a pumpkin for a while now, he wanted to make sure this year’s carving was memorable.
“Usually, I’ll carve up a bunch of pumpkins and do a big Halloween display,” Bliscik said. “This year, we decided to carve in his honor so people don’t forget what he gave up for everybody else.”
Bliscik made sure to be extra careful considering the importance of the carving. Fike served the country for 16 years, completing tours in Saudi Arabia from 2002 and 2003 and another in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service Medals and Iraq Campaign Medal.
“It was kind of hard to get started but once I got it started I want to make sure it looked good for him,” Bliscik said. “I’ve never done anything like that as a memorial. It was different.”