Family and friends of Michael Donatelli held a three-part memorial for the former special-operations soldier, who died earlier this year in a helicopter crash during production of a television show about special ops work.
An estimated 200 people celebrated his life at an Italian festival-style party Saturday at his family’s home along Stutzman Road in White Township.
Guests crowded the buffet tables and dined under a massive tent while a strolling guitarist played Italian songs.
Many wore shirts decorated with the Italian flag; Donatelli’s sister-in-law Alicia Donatelli read a message that was equal parts tribute, prayer and toast to Michael’s life.
“You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back, or you can open your eyes and see all he has left,” Alicia said. “Salute to Michael Donatelli!”
And most others shared stories about Donatelli, who would have turned 46 years old on Friday.
Michael Donatelli’s colleagues added their tributes to the festivities.
Dale Comstock, also a retired Special Forces operator, presented copies of his book “American Badass” to Donatelli’s family.
The book is prefaced with a lengthy dedication to Michael Donatelli.
Comstock was a partner with Donatelli on the television show production team and had traded assignments with him just before the fatal helicopter crash Feb. 10 in Acton, Calif.
Comstock calls his book “the true story of a modern day Spartan,” and chronicles his own life and service in the most secret of American military work — while shielding the names and some details to protect the confidentiality of Special Forces missions.
“I’m coming out, not only for me, but also for Mike and everybody else,” Comstock said. “Nobody knows those guys. We may seem to be at peacetime, but they’re at war, they’re out there doing the job, losing lives all the time, but it’s not something they all talk about.
“They can’t talk about it, but I can and help give them their props … for what they’ve done as unsung heroes.”
Zulu 7 Media has published paperback and hardcover editions of “American Badass” within the past month.
Michael Evock, who served alongside Donatelli in the Green Berets from the mid-1990s until they each retired, partnered with Donatelli in starting a security services company in North Carolina.
Evock, who has built and drives a late model dirt-track race car, has designed his #773 Chevy in honor of dozens of Special Forces people who have been killed in action since the war on terrorism began after Sept. 11, 2001.
Since Donatelli’s death, Evock has had his photo and credentials added to the design on the car.
Evock said he continues to operate AMJ Security & Vehicle Training LLC, but Comstock said the production of the television show — which had not been given a title — was indefinitely suspended by the film company, Eyeworks USA. The program was planned for broadcast on Discovery Channel.
The National Transportation Safety Board has issued no update on its investigation of the helicopter crash. The NTSB reported the chopper went down about one minute after takeoff at the Polsa Rosa movie ranch, killing Donatelli and two others. Investigators have not determined what caused the crash.