During a phone conversation from Afghanistan, Jason Santora shared a special moment with his father before heading back into battle.
"The last thing I said to him was I love him and I'm proud of him," said Gary Santora of Medford.
Gary would never speak to his 25-year-old boy again. The Army Sargeant was killed in combat on April 23.
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Last week, a ceremony was held in Medford at Tremont Elementary School in memory of Santora and other servicemen and women who have lost their lives in battle.
At the observance, Gary was presented with a flag that had been flown at half-mast over the New York State Capitol in honor of his son's service.
"I called Gary a couple of days after [his son's death]," said NYS Assemblyman Dean Murray, R-East Patchogue, who obtained the flag for him. "We have a bit of a connection. His son was serving in Afghanistan at the same time as mine."
A 2003 Sachem High School graduate, Sgt. Santora grew up in Farmingville and joined the Army in 2006. He was known as a "risk taker" and "just a great guy," according to his sister, Gina Santora.
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"He had a lot of integrity," she noted. "I was always with him. He was into sports, and he taught me how to pay soccer. He was an amazing brother."
One of the most difficult parts of his son's death, according to Gary, was that he could have come home two weeks prior to the firefight that took his life.
"His grandmother [on his mother's side] had passed away," Gary explained. "He could've come home [on bereavement leave], but he said to me, 'They need me more here than the family needs me there.'"
Many other politicians, service men and women and their families were on hand during the rally, which also touched on the need to increase awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury in veterans coming home from war.
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Having earned several military decorations and awards prior to his death, Santora was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal, according to the 75th Ranger Regiment of the US Army Special Operations Command. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and was on his second tour in Afghanistan when he was killed. In addition to Gary and Gina, Sgt. Santora is survived by his mother Theresa Santora of Massapequa and his uncle Ralph Fico of Massapequa Park.
"He was just a very open, very happy kid," Gary said. "If he saw you stuck on the side of the road, he'd pull over and help you out. That's the kind of kid he was. He was well loved."