Town memorial dedicated to fallen soldier

Friends and relatives of Army Sgt. Jason Santora Friends and relatives of Army Sgt. Jason Santora look at a plaque that was dedicated in his honor at the Medford Athletic Complex in Medford. (Nov. 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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This is where, years ago, Jason Santora swung a bat and ran the bases, coached by his father.

This is now where Santora, an Army sergeant killed in combat in Afghanistan, will always be remembered.

"I picked this place because we had a lot of great memories here," Gary Santora said Saturday during the unveiling of a marker honoring his son and his sacrifice.

About 65 people attended the ceremony dedicating the Brookhaven Town memorial, located on the grounds of the Medford Athletic Complex.

"There isn't a minute or day I don't think about him," said Santora, 55, of Medford. "Some days are better than others."

Jason Santora, a Farmingville native, was a 2003 graduate of Sachem North High School. He enlisted in 2006 and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga.

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He was deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan. In April 2010, Santora, 25, was serving as a team leader in Afghanistan's Logar province when he was seriously wounded in combat and later died. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in January 2011.

"I love him very much, and I'm really proud of him. He was my best friend," said Jason's sister, Gina Santora, 23, of Amityville, who attended the memorial. "It's nice that people keep thinking about him and have him in mind."

She remembered how her brother always put a smile on her face. "He would do anything for a laugh," she said. "He was hilarious."

Brookhaven Town acting supervisor Kathy Walsh called Santora's death a "true act of heroism and sacrifice."

Residents who lost power and waited in long gas lines following superstorm Sandy, she said, had only a "small taste of what the [Santora] family has endured."

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"It's great to honor a kid that gave the ultimate sacrifice for us," Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) said after the unveiling.

Terry Wilwerth, whose own son was a tank driver killed in Iraq, said he was there for his friend, Gary Santora, whom he met two years ago.

"We have to support each other and our troops," said Wilwerth, of Mastic.

During the ceremony, Santora spoke about how he tried to steer his son away from the military, having feared the worst. Later, he tried to get the soldier to come home after his grandmother died.

"They need me over here more," Jason told his father -- 10 days before he was killed.

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"That's the kind of kid he was," Gary Santora said. "He led by example."

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