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Fallen Army Ranger from LI remembered as 'greatest guy'

An Army Ranger guard carries a casket Monday

An Army Ranger guard carries a casket Monday with the body of Army Ranger Sgt. Jason Santora from Wantagh Abbey. Santora, of Farmingville, was 25. (May 3, 2010) Photo Credit: David Pokress

By the coffin bearing the body of Sgt. Jason Santora at Calverton National Cemetery, a father, a mother and a sister wept.

Close by during the military ceremony honoring the Army Ranger, a cross section of Long Islanders choked back tears - a high school friend now with the 106th Air Rescue Wing at Westhampton Beach, a father whose son is stationed at the same fire base in Afghanistan where Santora was killed on April 23, a classroom teacher who played football with Santora when they were in junior high school.

Under a sky whose threat of rain gave way to sunshine, Santora, 25, was buried with military honors shortly after noon Monday.


'Always been a hero'

"He has always been a hero to all of his friends," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Helf, 25, of the Air National Guard, who lives in Holbrook and knew Santora from high school. "He's the kind of guy you never worried about being at war. Jay would say, 'It's not even a question - I will always come home.' "

Santora, who grew up in Farmingville, became the 12th Long Islander to die during the war in Afghanistan when he and another soldier were mortally wounded during a firefight south of Kabul.

Jason Shea, 30, who went through basic training and Army Ranger school with Santora, and later served with him in Afghanistan, lauded Santora as a "top-notch soldier" who was caring and strong-willed.

"He was the greatest guy," Shea said, "but not a guy you would want to mess with."

Faces of those at the cemetery showed how intimately war has touched Long Island.

One man there was Terry Kruger, 49, whose youngest son, Richard, knew Santora from the combat outpost in Afghanistan where the two men were stationed. Richard Kruger returned to Long Island on leave nine days before Santora was killed, and is now back in Afghanistan.

"It makes you scared as a parent," said Kruger, who has three children in the Army, including a 22-year-old daughter who likely will be deployed to Afghanistan within the year. "It could very well be me here next week, next month, next year."

Matt Ventimiglia, 25, a teacher at Half Hollow Hills West High School, stood with several of Santora's childhood friends as the hearse slowly made its way into the cemetery. He had last seen his friend at Helf's house during the Christmas season. Now he was saying goodbye.


Friends hadn't worried

"He's the kind of guy you never worried about," Ventimiglia said, echoing a sentiment shared by many of Santora's friends.

Moment's later, the military ceremony began.

The crack of rifles broke the silence, followed by a bugler's mournful melody.

Then Santora's mother, sister and father - Theresa, Gina and Gary - each accepted a folded U.S. flag, as the sound of sobs mingled in the springtime breeze.

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