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Soldier-magician made home reappear for buddies

| Sunday, July 17, 2011

In the mess hall of a U.S. military base outside of Fallujah, Iraq, Marines would come to watch Cpl. Salem Bachar's magic.

Coins and cards would vanish from his hands, and for a few moments for those watching, a slice of home would appear. That's the real power of magic, said William Gleason, a member of the Society of American Magicians and retired EMT with the Fire Department of New York.

"Magic is the escape, but it's also part of home," said Gleason, who was forced to retire as a lieutenant because of medical problems he developed as a first responder to the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bachar was killed during an assault on Fallujah in 2006. He was 20, spoke English, Spanish and Arabic, and served as an intelligence specialist. Gleason presented the Society of American Magicians' Heroism and Patriot Award posthumously to Bachar on Saturday during the group's annual convention at the Wyndham Grand, Downtown.

Two Marines stationed in North Fayette, Capt. John Schneider and Sgt. Ronald Strang, accepted the award for him. They will deliver it to the Marine Casualty Services Branch, which will deliver it to Bachar's family.

"This is how you keep somebody's memory alive," Schneider said.

The commitment to a fallen service member's memory brings comfort to their loved ones, Schneider said. Schneider's brother-in-law, Justin Schmalstieg, a Marine bomb technician who grew up in Stanton Heights, died in Afghanistan in December. He was 28.

"I know what it means to the families to be recognized," said Schneider, who came back from Afghanistan in September. Strang returned earlier to recuperate from injuries suffered in an attack in Marja.

The ceremony included a five-minute slideshow and video showing Bachar and his wife, Kristine, whom he married 12 days before being deployed. It included dramatic footage of the other award recipient, Robin Boltman.

Boltman helped save 270 people stranded aboard the cruise liner Oceanos as it sank off the coast of South Africa in 1991. As Navy helicopters airlifted people off the deck, Boltman, the ship's magician, helped coordinate the rescue with the ship's radios, which had been abandoned when the crew fled the stricken ship. He was the second-to-last person off the ship, ahead of only a Navy rescue diver.

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