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Chaminade Gold Star stadium name honors fallen alumni

Marine Corps Brigadier General Kevin J. Killea, Chaminade

Marine Corps Brigadier General Kevin J. Killea, Chaminade Class of '83, left, and U.S. Navy Cmdr. Matt Bonner, Chaminade Class of '89, salute during a dedication ceremony for Gold Star Stadium at Chaminade High School in Mineola on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Chaminade High School on Saturday strengthened a tradition of honoring alumni who gave their lives serving the country from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by naming its new football stadium the Gold Star.

The name refers to the gold star lapel buttons the U.S. military gives family members of the fallen.

"It's a special day," said Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, class of 1983, whose brother, William J. Killea, was one of the 56 names he and fellow alumnus Navy Cmdr. Matthew Bonner, '89, read aloud during the dedication ceremony, while a bugler played "Taps."

The Marine brigadier general, now stationed in Washington, D.C., was 3 years old when he lost his brother, Billy, an ensign in the Navy stationed in Pensacola, Florida. "He was in flight training in the Navy; it was a training accident," Killea said.

"From the Vietnam War -- here, we have a plethora," Killea said of the school's fallen.

Chaminade in Mineola is a Roman Catholic boys school that dates back to 1930. Graduates include former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, Thomas Suozzi, Nassau's ex-county executive, Lou Gerstner, former chairman and chief executive of IBM, and Jeffrey Campbell, former chief executive of Burger King.

Teaching public service is one of Chaminade's hallmarks, along with getting graduates into college, school officials say.

Army 1st Lt. Steven Ligouri, class of 2005, said: "Everything about this school -- they really encourage us to a life of service here . . . to everybody around you."

The dedication was followed by the season opener for the school's football team, the Flyers, who squared off against the Firebirds of Kellenberg Memorial High School from Uniondale.

This was the first football game played in the new stadium after a nearly $3 million renovation that included new fields and buildings, said Brother Thomas Cleary, school president.

Chaminade also honors its fallen alumni with an annual Mass, Bonner said, a tradition begun during World War II. School alumni also have a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Families of the 56 fallen were among those attending the dedication and the football game.

Two of them were Marianna Winchester, 67, of Rockville Centre, who came with her daughter, Kristine Winchester-Moore, 33, of Oceanside, who brought her three young sons.

They lost Marine 1st Lt. Ronald Winchester, a 1997 graduate, who played football for Chaminade and the Naval Academy.

Shortly after Winchester started his second tour in 2004, he died after a roadside bomb exploded while he was on patrol in Iraq's Anbar province. The blast also took the lives of three of his men, his mother said.

Winchester had a summer job working in computers at the World Trade Center and, on Sept. 11, 2001, he called his mother to tell her to turn on the television.

"He said, 'Mom, I know what my mission is,' so I knew that was his destiny," she said.

His sister said: "He was the best brother anybody could ask for. He was my protector, we fought, we went out together, we laughed."

Winchester's mother added that the Army honored her son by naming the mess hall where he served in Anbar after him. "His men respected him so."

The dedication to the 56 also moved current students. Jack Tigh, a senior on the Varsity football team, said by email: "Every game on this field will be played in their memory and honor."

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