More than 500 people gathered under gray skies at Lido Beach Saturday morning to honor fallen Marine 1st Lt. Michael LiCalzi at the Ace in the Hole Foundation’s seventh annual Beach Run & Walk Fundraiser.
LiCalzi, 24, a Garden City resident, died while commanding a tank unit in the Iraq desert on May 11, 2006. His family, which started the foundation, began the 2-mile run-walk as a “constructive way to deal” with the loss, which remains raw for all of them, said Greg LiCalzi Sr., Michael LiCalzi’s father.
“It doesn’t really heal,” he said. “It covers up a scab. It doesn’t heal; you repress it.”
April and May are difficult because several family birthdays — including those of Michael LiCalzi and his twin brother — fall in those months, as does the anniversary of the Marine’s death.
“Every life-changing moment is sad because Mike is not there to celebrate it,” said Greg LiCalzi Jr., Michael’s fraternal twin. “I’ve got a wife and two children. He wasn’t my best man, he never met my wife. He’s not the godfather to my children. You want your family there.”
Michael LiCalzi drowned with three others from the U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Tank Battalion when their M1A1 Battle Tank flipped off a bridge into a canal in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
Also killed were 2nd Marine Division Cpl. Steve Vahaviolos, 21, of upstate Airmont; and Lance Cpls. Jason K. Burnett, 20, of St. Cloud, Florida, and David Grames Sanchez, 22, of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Saturday’s event brought together the families of the four fallen Marines for the first time since they died.
The Ace in the Hole Foundation was founded in 2007, and the first run-walk took place in 2010. The nonprofit derives its name from the 2nd Battalion’s slogan: “Ace in the hole.”
The LiCalzi family holds the event at Lido West Beach Park because Michael LiCalzi spent many days of his youth surfing. A surfboard stand is erected, along with a plaque in his honor.
Saturday’s event raised $111,000 for various charities that family members said Michael LiCalzi supported while he was alive — or would have supported if he were still here.
To date, the foundation has raised more than $540,000 for various causes. The biggest donation this year was $50,000 to St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale. The parochial school teaches prekindergarten through eighth grade to students in Uniondale, Hempstead and Roosevelt.
The event also collected $20,000 toward the 1st Lt. Michael LiCalzi Scholarship Fund, which awards $3,000 to high school seniors or college students who are former Marines or children of Marines. To date, the foundation has given out 20 scholarships.
Other recipients this year included the Snowball Express, a Texas-based charity that creates happy memories for the children of fallen military heroes; United Veterans Beacon House, which has locations in Suffolk and Nassau counties; and the Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types, a nonprofit focused on a rare skin disease that afflicts Greg LiCalzi Jr.
The nonprofit also set aside $20,000 in its reserves for the 2nd Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The foundation works with the Marines to provide funding for Marines and their families when it’s needed most, including medical expenses.