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Christopher Raguso

By Kyle Barr

Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.

Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”

Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.

Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was. 

“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”

Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.

“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.

The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.

The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.

“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.

By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door. 

It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.

Pallets filled with donated water and soda at Kings Park Fire Department. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

One sign of late Commack resident Christopher Raguso’s lasting impact on his community may be his ability to inspire hundreds of Kings Park residents and businesses to donate.

It’s what happens when one of our community is down, our community helps pick them up.”
— Tony Tanzi

Kings Park residents and area businesses donated supplies to help the Fire Department of the City of New York host funeral services for the U.S. airman and New York City and Commack firefighter March 31.

The FDNY reached out to the Kings Park Fire Department while planning for Raguso’s service, according to Kings Park Fire Chief John Gallo, requesting assistance to provide for the anticipated attendance between 3,000 and 15,000 mourners. It sought donations of bottled water, soda, food and paper goods to help feed the volunteer fighters and military personnel who would be attending the ceremony.

“As soon as we heard the terrible news, we were there to support them in whatever Commack or the Raguso family needed,” Gallo said.

 Kings Park Fire Department has provided this list of area businesses and organizations who donated or contributed to the funeral services held March 31:

Albrecht Viggiano Zureck & Company, P.C.
Ancient Order of Hibernians
Andersen’s Deli & Catering
Andrews Excavating Inc.
Bagel King
Baldor
Boy Scout Troop 410
Ciro’s Italian Restaurants & Catering
Cookies & More
Costco
Duke’s K9 Spa
Edelweiss Delicatessen & Caterers
Emilio’s Italian Kitchen
EMF Gourmet Italian Market
The Fresh Market
G Weld Fabrication & Welding Inc.
Home Depot
Key Food
Kings Park Chiropractic
Kings Park Fire Department
Kings Park Hardware
Kings Park Moms
Knights of Columbus
KP Construction
La Scala Ristorante
Long Island Cares
Liberty Mutual
Manhattan Beer
Milano Fine Men’s Fashion
New Beginnings
NY Auto Giant
Plycon Transportation Group
Pizzaiolo Gourmet Eatery
Prime Wine & Liquor
Relish
111 Deli Catering
Rothco
Sangria 71
Sterling National Bank
St. Catherine’s of Siena Medical Center
St. Johnland Nursing Center
Superior Ice Rink
Uncle Wallys Bake Shoppe
Verizon 

The request hit close to home for Kings Park firefighters. Raguso’s brother-in-law, Andrew DiChiara, is a volunteer with the fire department.

Gallo said he immediately reached out to neighboring fire departments in East Northport, Hauppauge, Nesconset, Nissequogue, Northport and St. James for help. As the estimates of those attending Raguso’s funeral increased, the fire chief said he called Tony Tanzi, president of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, to see if local businesses would be willing to contribute. An email blast sent out to the chamber’s membership quickly went viral. Kings Park Moms group and the nonprofit organization Angels Without Faces reposted the message on their Facebook pages.

“The people in this community took it and ran with it,” Tanzi said. “That’s indicative of Kings Park as a whole. It’s what happens when one of our community is down, our community helps pick them up.”

Long before Kings Park firefighters had posted they would be accepting public donations at 7 p.m. March 30, their storage warehouse was already filled with pallets of bottled water. A steady stream of residents pulled up in minivans and SUVs to donate cases of soda, potato chips and Girl Scout cookies saying simply “for Raguso.” Tanzi said about 50 pallets of water and more than 60,000 disposable drinking cups were collected.

The sheer volume of supplies began to raise logistical issues of how to best move them to the funeral site. Kings Park Hardware sent over a forklift to help lift and maneuver pallets, according to Tanzi, while Plycon Transportation offered free use of their trucks to drop off the goods around town.

The fire department’s Main Street headquarters and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5796 hall on Church Street both opened their doors as rest stops during Raguso’s funeral. The FDNY also set up garbage pails filled with water bottles on ice for mourners along the funeral procession route.

“On behalf of the Kings Park Fire Department, I would personally like to extend my appreciation to all the residents of our community for their extremely generous and outstanding show of support,” said John Gallo, chief of the Kings Park Fire Department. “The Raguso family, Commack Fire Department and FDNY are all thankful to all of you who assisted in supporting Chris’ funeral. It is this outpouring of support that makes our community special and Kings Park a beautiful place to live. God bless America and God bless our military.”

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Thousands of mourners, firefighters, family and friends lined the streets of Kings Park Saturday morning to say their farewells and pay final respects to U.S. airman Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, also a New York City and Commack firefighter.

“A hero is a person who is admired for their courage, for their outstanding achievements, for their noble qualities,” said Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the Fire Department of the City of New York. “Lieutenant Christopher Raguso was a hero in every sense of the word, and the way he lived his life.”

“Lieutenant Christopher Raguso was a hero in every sense of the word, and the way he lived his life.”
— Daniel Nigro

Firefighters standing up to five and six-men deep lined Raguso’s funeral processional route from Clayton’s Funeral Home to St. Joseph’s Church in Kings Park. The church and parish hall were both filled to capacity as the funeral service for Raguso got underway March 31. Thousands more stood outside watching a jumbotron simulcast of the service from the streets and nearby houses.

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th rescue unit killed in the line-of-duty March 15 when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation, but did not appear to be the result of enemy activity.

“When men like Chris pass, we are forced to reflect on our own worthiness,” said Lieutenant Christopher Gorzynski of the FDNY. “Deep down, we know we will never measure up to the bar that he has set. Chris just gave us so much more than we gave him.”

Raguso had served deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa and more recently, two answered domestic calls to action to help victims of hurricanes Harvey and Maria. In January 2018, he started his second tour in Iraq.

“He had promised everyone this would be his last time going to war — how prophetic,” said his father, John Raguso.

“Celebrities show off, heroes show up. Chris always showed up.
— Rev. Sean Gann

The father recalled his son’s passion and devotion to serving others in a 12-minute eulogy he referred to as “the most difficult task of my life.” Raguso said his son’s caring nature was evident early in life, when at age 4 on a family trip to the Dominican Republican he took off the shirt and shorts he was wearing to give to a local boy.

“We knew early on that Chris was on a flight path all his own,” his father said.

Raguso joined the Commack Fire Department in 2000. He served as captain of Company 2 before stepping up as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16.

“Celebrities show off, heroes show up,” said Rev. Sean Gann of St. Joseph’s Church. “Chris always showed up.”

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the FDNY, where he served the majority of his career with Ladder Company 113 in Brooklyn. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and was stationed with Battalion 50 in Queens at the time of his death. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“That’s because Chris didn’t know how not to give 100 percent of himself,” Gorzynski said.

“Chris’s legacy is hallmarked by a life of service so that others may live.”
— Lee Zeldin

His fellow firefighter recalled him as a “gentle giant” who was known not only for his heroic acts but loving messages, bestowing nicknames and “goofball antics we can only tell now in stories and laughter,” according to Gorzynski.

“Chris’s legacy is hallmarked by a life of service so that others may live,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in his eulogy.

Zeldin, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) were among the host of federal, state and town elected officials who attended the ceremony but did not publicly speak.

At the end of the funeral service, four Nassau County helicopters performed a flyover in honor of Raguso which was followed by a moment of silence. Bagpipers played “America the Beautiful” as the procession headed to Calverton National Cemetery in Wading River to his interment with full military honors.

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Wake services to be held March 29 and 30 at Commack Fire Department

A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, March 18 at Dover Air Force Base. Photo from U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Matt Davis

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County police and Smithtown Town officials have announced several road closures in advance of the funeral services for Air National Guard Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso.

Police will close one lane of Jericho Turnpike between Valmont Avenue and Commack Road in Commack on March 29 and 30 between noon and approximately 10 p.m.

Indian Head Road will be closed between Kings Park Road and Old Dock Road March 31 from 8 a.m. to approximately 3 p.m. Church Street, portions of Old Dock Road and portions of Route 25A will also be closed.

Smithtown Town officials announced there will be road closures in Kings Park along the ceremony route. It will start at Clayton Funeral Home on Meadow Road south to Old Northport Road March 31, starting as early as 9 a.m. The funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Clayton Funeral Home, located at 25 Meadow Road in Kings Park.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has asked all residents to plan accordingly and to please have patience out of respect for the Raguso family and friends. Heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic is expected and motorists are advised to find alternate routes.

In lieu of flowers, donations are being collected online to benefit Raguso’s daughters via the FDNY Foundation.  All who wish to contribute can do so by visiting: www.fdnyfoundation.org/donate. Visitors can scroll down to the “Fund” column and click on the “Scholarship Fund to Benefit the Children of FDNY Lieutenant Christopher Raguso” from the drop-down menu.

This post will be updated with additional road closures as more information becomes available. 

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A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, March 18 at Dover Air Force Base. Photo from U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Matt Davis

It’s a solemn week for Commack and Huntington town residents as they mourn a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of his country.

The funeral services for Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, one of the seven U.S. airmen killed when a a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in Iraq March 15, have been scheduled.

The wake will be held at Commack Fire Department headquarters March 29 and 30, with visitation on both days from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral service will be held March 31 at 11 a.m at St. Joseph’s Church, located at 59 Church St. in Kings Park.

Christopher Raguso. Photo from Commack Fire Department’s Facebook

Raguso served with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He had joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and previously served as captain of Company 2 on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief with a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse, playing an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had — it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions as an individual and part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service — as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the United State Department of Defense.

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Christopher Raguso posthumously awarded title of honorary chief by Commack Fire Department

A military helicopter crash in Iraq has hit close to home for both the Commack and
Elwood communities.

Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, was among those killed in the March 15 helicopter crash. The 39-year-old was one of seven airmen on board a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Raguso was assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton. His mother, Laura Raguso of East Northport, said she pleaded with him not to go on this most
recent deployment.

“I begged him not to do it,” she said at a press conference, but that Raguso responded by saying if he didn’t go and do it, who would? “As a mother, he crushed me that day.”

“I begged him not to do it.”
— Laura Raguso

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of the City of New York, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service    as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

But to Commack residents, Raguso was perhaps best known for his service with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He  joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and  previously served as captain of Company 2
located on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company.”
— Pat Fazio

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse as he played an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had, it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Fazio said several members of the Commack Fire Department drove to Delaware to join Raguso’s wife, Carmela, and the family at Dover Air Force Base to see Raguso remains return home March 18.

“We will forever be there for the family,” he said. “His wife and his children will forever be part of the family.”

Elwood school district also mourned Raguso’s passing; he was a 1997 graduate of John Glenn High School.

“The district extends its deepest condolences to Lt. Raguso’s family and friends,” wrote Superintendent Kenneth Bossert in a message on the district’s website. “He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a Staten Island-based nonprofit in memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller who died in the 9/11 attacks, has stepped forward to donate $100,000 toward paying off the Raguso family’s mortgage.

“He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”
— Kenneth Bossert

“Our mission is to honor and support military personnel and first responders,” said spokeswoman Catherine Christman. “In Christopher Raguso, you have both in one person.”

Christman said the Raguso family has undergone many recent hardships as his wife, Carmela, is a recent breast cancer survivor. He is also survived by his two daughters, Eva Rose, 5, and Mila Teresa, 6. No details on his wake or funeral arrangements were available as of  this publication’s press time.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan  Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered flags on all state government buildings to be flown at half-staff in their honor March 19.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) similarly directed the flags on all Town of Huntington buildings flown at half-staff on Monday.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “On behalf [of] the Town of Huntington, you have our deepest sympathies and our prayers will be with you and your families at this sad and tragic time.” Master Sgt. William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a current member of the U.S. Army Reserve, mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security.”
— Chad Lupinacci

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Commack Fire Department is encouraging those who wish to make a donation to the Raguso family to donate funds in Raguso’s name to the Silver Shield Foundation, a nonprofit that provides educational support for children and widows of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Donations can be made by visiting www.silvershieldfoundation.org/donate or mailing to: Silver Shield Foundation, 870 United Nations Plaza, 1st Floor, New York, NY 10017.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also collecting donations from residents to continue helping pay off the Raguso family’s mortgage. Donations can be made by visiting: www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/t2traguso.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to support Raguso’s daughters at www.gofundme.com/5a6lxdc. It has received more than $29,000 of its $50,000 goal as of 3:15 p.m. March 19.

In addition, the St. James Fire Department announced it will be donating the proceeds of its Pancakes with the Easter Bunny event, set for March 25 from 8 to 11 a.m., to the Tunnel to Towers foundation and Raguso family. The cost is $7 for adults, $3 for children and the fifth family member eats free.

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