SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Once, twice, a third time, shouted roll call queries for two Army Rangers hung unanswered in the chilly breeze during a memorial ceremony at Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield, near Savannah.
"Staff Sergeant Katzenberger!"
With each call during the memorial ceremony last Friday, a Manhasset father, James Regan, pursed his lips and blinked rapidly.
He had heard such an unanswered call before, during a memorial ceremony four years ago in which the name "Sergeant James J. Regan" had faded in the Georgia air. Regan's son James, a member of the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Regiment, was killed in Iraq in 2007 at age 26 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during a combat patrol.
"It hits hard," Regan said later of the ceremony's impact. "You don't know it's coming."
Regan, who retired from the financial-services industry, is among thousands of Long Islanders who have found ways of their own to honor America's military veterans, including the more than 3 million Americans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11.
Thousands have participated in road races or barbecue fundraisers for organizations such as 9-1-1 Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project. Scores more have volunteered to help care for patients at the veterans hospital in Northport, renovate the homes of disabled veterans or run veterans aid fairs.
Since his son's death, Regan has sought to honor him by helping any current and former members of the Ranger regiment and their families cope with death, injury and other challenges soldiers and veterans face through a charity he formed called Lead The Way Fund. The fund offers support groups, counseling and even parties.
"The first reaction when you lose a son as close as we were, it's traumatic," Regan said. "But we wanted to honor our son and we knew we had the talent and expertise to get this done. Knowing who these Rangers are and what they go through, it's a moral responsibility to take care of these men."
The fund, named for the Rangers motto, has raised nearly $4 million since November 2007. It works with military leaders to provide support services for Rangers and their families that the military cannot legally pay for due to government regulations.
"If it's not for Jim and his guys, it doesn't happen," said Col. Michael Foster, commander of the 1,300-member 1st Battalion.
Foster said Regan's fund provided help to the family of Cory Remsburg, a battalion member who was paralyzed on his left side after a 2009 bomb attack in Afghanistan that crushed his skull.
Although the military was able to fly Remsburg's parents to his bedside at a military hospital in Germany, there was no authority to do so for other family members. Military leaders put Remsburg's sister in contact with Regan's fund, which paid for a last-minute ticket to get her there also.
Foster said Amelia Pape, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Kevin Pape, was killed a year ago during heavy fighting in Konar province, Afghanistan, is another of the fund's recent beneficiaries.
The military covered virtually all expenses she incurred in arranging for his funeral. But Foster realized that Pape could use the emotional support of friends while she traveled to greet the arrival of her husband's remains at the military mortuary at Dover, Del.
Foster put Pape in contact with Regan, who helped cover travel costs that allowed two of Pape's fellow military wives to be with her.
"Allowing us to support Amelia that way was crucial," said Melissa Albaugh, one of the wives who flew with Pape, and whose husband had been sitting next to Sergeant Regan when he was killed.
"It is a difficult time for all of us, and that made it easier," she said of the ability to be with Pape during her grief. "We were able to stand together and hold each other for comfort."
As last Friday's ceremony was breaking up, Pape spotted Regan, who by now is a familiar face at the Savannah military installation. "I want a hug," she said, throwing her arms around him.
"It was the support we needed," Pape said. "It meant the world to me."