Gina Santora clutched a drawing of her and her brother, Jason, as she fought back tears.
Across her left arm was a tattoo that read, “You’re the most important person in my life too, make sure you always remember that. Love always, Big Bro.”
“I wanted to get a tattoo for him ever since he passed away,” said Gina Santora, 22, of Medford, who wore a dog tag with a picture of Jason around her neck. “Last year, I was going through the letters he had written me and decided to get this [tattoo] in his handwriting.”
On Tuesday, Army Sgt. Jason Santora, who was killed while serving for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan on April 23, 2010, became the ninth Brookhaven resident memorialized by a plaque in the Brookhaven Global War on Terror Memorial.
Jason Santora, who grew up in Farmingville and attended Sachem North High School, died at age 25 two months into his tour of duty in the Logar Province.
Santora, always an “adrenaline junkie,” enlisted in 2003 and had been deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan, Gina Santora said.
“It takes a special kid to enlist in the Army during war,” said Jason’s father, Gary Santora, 53, of Medford. “I always expected him to come home though.”
The memorial in front of Brookhaven Town Hall was designed by Terry Wilwerth, 60, of Mastic, after he went to town officials in 2009 seeking a way to remember his son, Army Spc. Thomas J. Wilwerth, who died in 2006 and other fallen heroes of the town.
“People should keep on remembering the fallen and keep the families in their prayers,” said Terry’s wife, Elaine Wilwerth, 50.
Several of the families whose loved ones were memorialized at Brookhaven were in attendance for Santora’s plaque dedication.
“These families were here to support me and now I’m here to support them,” said Michelle McNaughton, 43, of Centereach whose son James D. McNaughton served in the Army and was killed in 2005.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko was in attendance wearing a United Way T-shirt that read, “I support Long Island Families.”
“I certainly know that [Jason] is smiling down on us today,” he said.
When the plaque was unveiled, the Santora family held each other while immediately bursting into silent tears.
“I always said the world would be a better place if everyone had a brother like him,” Gina Santora said.