It bears repeating. 9/11 changed everything.
Without that terrorist attack, James Regan Jr. of Manhasset would not have left a promising career on Wall Street to join the military, eventually getting killed in Iraq in 2007 while serving with the Army Rangers.
Absent 9/11, Timothy John Coughlin of Manhasset would not have died in the collapse of the North Tower, where he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.
And in the absence of the Global War on Terror sparked by 9/11, both 1st Lt. Michael LiCalzi of Garden City and MSgt Christopher J. Raguso of Commack would not have died in combat.
It was only fitting that Jimmy’s Gold Star Memorial 5K Run was held on the anniversary of the attacks and, for the second year in a row, it took place in the late sergeant’s hometown of Manhasset. Proceeds benefited the Ranger Lead the Way Fund, created by his parents, James Sr. and Mary. It has provided $11 million in support to active duty Rangers since it was formed 14 years ago.
Regan, Coughlin, LiCalzi and Raguso were honored on a late summer Sunday morning in the hamlet. On a few speakers’ lips and on everyone’s mind was the great loss and profound sorrow represented by their deaths, the lost potential, the “what-might-have-beens.”
Eleven members of Jimmy Jr.’s old Ranger regiment, the 75th, were on hand. So were dozens of West Point lacrosse team members. Their head coach, Joe Alberici, coached Regan Jr. at Duke, where he was an All-American lacrosse player.
The toll from the horrible September day, according to various sources:
• 18 Manhasset residents or victims who grew up in the hamlet
• 15 alumni from Chaminade High School, including some from Manhasset
• 11 alumni from St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset
• 3 alumni from Manhasset High School
Regan Jr. was a Chaminade alumnus, and the school connection remained strong at the race. His former teacher, Brother Tom Cleary, president of the Catholic high school in Mineola, spoke as always, recalling teaching Jimmy Jr. in 1998 and reaffirming that the sergeant remained a powerful inspiration at the school. As an aside, the brother was now teaching Jimmy’s cousin, Jack.
Frank Coughlin talked of his brother, who died at 42, leaving wife Maura and children Ryann, 4, Sean, 2, and Riley, 9 months at the time. A New York Times profile of him was titled, “A Face That Promised Friendship.”
“I know we’re all anxious to hear ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ and listening to me is not part of the usual race warm up,” Coughlin apologized to the sizable crowd assembled in the municipal parking lot adjacent to Mary Jane Davies Green.
He joked, “My daughter Alice is here, but I assured her I would not mention that she’s running in the race (laughter).”
He continued, “But this is anything but a typical race on a late summer’s day, and that is because of what this race represents. September 11th was the first day this nation was subject to an attack on our soil for the first time in nearly 200 years. Manhasset and towns throughout the New York metropolitan area were impacted with the loss of life. Those who were taken were not gray hairs. Most were young men and women with bright futures, working diligently to achieve [their] dreams, and were integral parts of nuclear families.”
He spoke of the staggering loss of first responders, the 343 firefighters, “constituting the deadliest day in the history of firefighting—75 firehouses lost at least one member. [There were also] 37 Port Authority cops and 23 New York City cops [killed].”
Coughlin was struck by the juxtaposition of “my brother and the others trapped in the upper floors of the towers, trying to find an open path down, while New York City cops and firefighters were seeking a pathway up.”
He recalled Plandome Road School (since demolished; it stood on the site of Mary Jane Davies Green), and his brother playing basketball at the school.
“And before 9/11 the community did not have a fear of any sort of invasion,” he observed. “It’s important that the community continues to enjoy and the next generation of children among us continue to have that freedom from fear. That’s what the Rangers, that’s what the West Pointers make sure we have.”
In an interview with the Manhasset Press, Coughlin called his brother, “an irreplaceable one-of-a-kind guy. I know it sounds like something every brother says, but Timmy had a zest for life, enthusiastic in the way he approached work, friends and family. So he’s been sorely missed. But at the same time my sister-in-law [Maura] has done a wonderful job and she remarried and lives in Garden City. [The kids] are all adults in their twenties and they’ve done wonderful work in preparing them for adulthood. They’re all good kids with good work ethics. Tim would be very proud of the adults they have become.”
Greg Licalzi of Manhasset said he had Brother Tom as a teacher at Chaminade, where both he and twin brother Michael were members of the class of 2000. Michael was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy and later achieved his dream of becoming a Marine.
Greg was at Union College in upstate New York and both brothers were sophomores on 9/11.
“I can’t imagine what was going on in the minds of the guys at the Naval Academy at that time,” LiCalzi reflected. “Yes, they signed up for this. The West Point guys that are here did too. Yes, they knew that war may happen [but] I doubt that these guys expected that this war would be thrust on them so quickly. The next step [after 9/11 was] we would fight back and they were the ones that would be doing the fighting. I imagine many of them were excited at the prospect, feeling invincible, as they should—these guys were the alphas, are the alphas.”
LiCalzi continued, “And sadly, because I am standing here speaking before you, you know how this story ends. Mike graduates, heads to war, and just like Jimmy, never came back. No welcome home celebration, no wife, no kids to play with.”
He pointed to the large display with the pictures of Regan, LiCalzi and Raguso behind him and stated, “They knew in their hearts they might not come back. They were the alphas. I just figured they would all come back.”
In addition to the toll on 9/11, LiCalzi went on, were the more than 7,000 servicemen killed in the War on Terror as well as 30,000 active duty soldiers and veterans who died by suicide since 9/11.
One of the big problems soldiers faced, he noted, “is coming home and dealing with the ramifications of war. I have issues at home just grocery shopping. I can’t imagine going overseas and fighting and coming home and dealing with that. And the Ranger Lead the Way Fund helps these guys coming home at dealing with it.”
In his remarks, James Regan Sr. said, “Lead The Way has impacted the lives of 56,000 Rangers over 14 years (applause). We’ve invested over $11 million in functional program expenses to do this, to make sure that they and their families are taken care of, so we’re really happy about that.”
He noted that 81 Rangers have been killed in action or in training, and 81,000 have been wounded in the War on Terror. He thanked those who aided the fund’s efforts, which “goes a long way in helping us continue our enduring support for our Rangers from the 75th Ranger regiment. As you can see, our mission remains steadfast and far from complete. We don’t know when our next conflict will arise. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed our country’s military outlook. Russia’s actions show the need to be vigilant in protecting the United States and our valued NATO allies. The 75th Ranger regiment must be ready to fly at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world where evil appears. It’s the tip of the spear.”
In an interview with the Manhasset Press, Regan Sr. said it was a deliberate decision to hold the race on the anniversary “because we want to make sure that we always have and will always remember 9/11. We remember 9/11 from many different ways. Our military was engaged because of 9/11. Jimmy signed up because of 9/11, so my life and the Regan family’s life was changed permanently because of 9/11.”
He hastened to add that no one in his family died or was injured in the attacks, “but Jimmy signed up because of 9/11 to serve his country and unfortunately did not come home. But it’s a wonderful day. We have about 440, 450 runners and participants, so it’s really healthy and it’s a great day to have it.”
“Why Timmy Coughlin?” he was asked.
He replied, “Timmy was highly regarded and respected in Manhasset. Frank Coughlin is a dear friend and is very much involved with Manhasset and the Manhasset PAL and the youth in Manhasset. To me he was a natural choice, to have someone from that perspective, someone who lost a brother or sister. And then Greg obviously, twin of Michael, and to have his perspective on it.”
The foundation, he emphasized, “is an active duty casualty assistance and recovery organization [for the] 75th Ranger Regiment. We fill the gaps that the government doesn’t take care of. We work with a government organization called Care Coalition—it provides resources for our wounded Rangers and their families. Whatever is not covered by the government, which is a large amount, we get the call to support then. We support normal stuff like people who have cancer. We’ve built four homes throughout the country. We help the guys who are in the fight right now, training for the fight. We lose two or three guys in training every year. It’s very dangerous stuff.”
Regan Sr. expressed his appreciation for the fund’s board members and several families for helping to organize the event. He thanked the Town of North Hempstead and Supervisor Jen DeSena, Mark Sauvigne and the Manhasset Park District, the Village of Munsey Park and Mayor Larry Ceriello, as well as a troop of volunteers and the Nassau County Police Department for traffic control. He also thanked Plandome Manor Mayor Barbara Donno for helping to organize and getting the necessary permits.
A Father’s Anger & Acceptance
John Raguso has played guitar with the Manhasset-based Meade Brothers Band for the past 49 years. His son Chris was one of those honored at Jimmy’s Run and Regan Sr. singled out the Gold Star parent during his remarks.
Before the music started, Raguso, a charter boat captain and fishing expert and writer, spoke with the Manhasset Press about his son.
Chris was master sergeant and combat and rescue aviator for the Air Force in between serving as a FDNY lieutenant and a captain in the Commack Fire Department. He died in 2018 on a combat mission in the Middle East shrouded in secrecy. John has fought a four-year battle against a recalcitrant Department of Defense over its refusal to award a Purple Heart to Chris.
His son, John said, took part in hurricane rescue missions in Houston, Puerto Rico and North Carolina, and was credited with saving hundreds of people as part of the 101st Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing.
“When he died, the mayor of Houston sent four honor guard who stood by his casket at the Commack Firehouse 24/7. They took four-hours shifts and the guys never slept,” John related, adding that North Carolina also sent state troopers to Chris’ wake.
The younger Raguso should have been killed in combat in Iraq in 2004, when a mortar round landed 10 feet away, but it didn’t explode because of a bad fuse, his father said.
“[Chris] realized that God had saved him from certain death,” John said, and when he came back he took up an offer to join the FDNY and dedicated his life to saving as many people as he could.
“He had 14 years of extra time, but in that time he did God’s will,” John went on. “I’m good with how he died doing God’s will. The problem that I have is seeing his mom [Laura] his wife [Carmela] and his two little girls [Mila and Eva] and his brother [Joe, a retired NYPD cop] and the impact that has it has had on them. And that kills me. It’s a sh—-w.”
He added, “Every day is a different day. Some are good days and some are bad days. Events like this make you proud. Who’s to say that he didn’t have the best life in the world in his 39 years and one day? A lot of people get to live twice as long and don’t do anything with their lives. At least he made the most of his life and he made the world a better place. Sure, he killed bad guys, but he saved 400 good guys. People who deserve to live he saved.”
According to a story in The Air Force Times, Chris chose to serve in one of the most dangerous areas for fires in NYC and as a result won a number of medals for bravery for running into burning buildings.
All the honors won’t bring his son back, John acknowledged, but stated, “At least his girls, when [their mom] drives down Jericho Turnpike from Dix Hills to Smithtown, there’s 50 signs up that have their father’s name on it, so they’ll know who their dad was.”
The signs were put up by the Town of Huntington.
Notes: Manhasset-based Meade Brothers Band provided the classic rock background to the proceedings. The band is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Manhasset’s Dietrich Mosel, a Marist College alumn, placed first, ahead of Luke Ebeling of the 3rd Ranger Battalion. It was the first Jimmy’s Run for Mosel, who said, “It was for a good cause, so why not?” He learned about the race thanks to a preview article in the Manhasset Press. Ebeling said the Lead the Way Fund sponsored his participation. Asked about the race, he replied, “It was tough. The hills were rough.”