Mike LiCalzi was 24 in May 2006, when the tank that he and three fellow Marines were maneuvering during a night mission in Iraq flipped over, killing all four.
In honor of LiCalzi’s ultimate sacrifice for the country he served, Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital posthumously recognized him at its third annual Salute to Veterans for Their Valor and Service event last Friday.
“Mike’s death has emboldened myself and others in my family to not take life for granted,” said his brother, Greg LiCalzi. “We’re at a hospital today, which I think is a perfect setting. This is where new lives are brought into the world, where lives are saved and, sadly, where people go on to the next life.”
LiCalzi grew up in Garden City, but his ties to the Oceanside hospital run deep. His great uncle Nick LiCalzi was its chief of surgery from 1975 to 1995, and had been in the U.S. Army, stationed in Korea in the 1950s. Mike’s uncle and Greg’s godfather, Luke LiCalzi, spent 34 years at South Nassau, and was its director of vascular surgery for 24 years before retiring in 2016. He died the following year.
Mike graduated from Chaminade High School in 2000 and went on to the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating and earning his commission as a second lieutenant in the Marines in May 2004. He was stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he was first in his class in armor school and was chosen to lead a platoon of men in the Second Marines Division. In 2006 he was stationed in Iraq, where he led fellow Marines on independent operations. While there, he earned the Iraq Campaign Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal.
On May 11, 2006, LiCalzi led the fateful night mission, during which the tank flipped off a bridge and landed in a canal, where the Marines drowned. Two of them were teenagers, and one had a child. Greg LiCalzi lamented that his brother never had the opportunity to start a family, but added that his sacrifice did not go unnoticed.
“My brother Mike wasn’t afforded that opportunity to come home after serving,” Greg said. “He never got the chance to find his soulmate, or have any sons and daughters of his own. But his sacrifice, along with the work of the nation’s veterans, allows us to live freely and enjoy our families.”
In honor of Mike, the LiCalzis created the Ace in the Hole Foundation, which, according to its website, offers financial assistance to disabled or disadvantaged people — particularly armed services personnel and their families — directly or through contributions to charitable organizations, without regard to race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. Mount Sinai South Nassau donated $500 to the charity at the event.
Members of the Robert F. Garrison Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3350, in East Rockaway, presented the flag, led the Pledge of Allegiance and later played taps at the event. The hospital’s environmental services coordinator, Stefanie Bradley, sang the national anthem, Physical Therapy Assistant Amrit Rali sang “God Bless America,” nutritionist Sal Traina sang “America the Beautiful” and the South Nassau Nightingales offered a patriotic medley.
In addition to honoring LiCalzi, the hospital presented its annual Veteran Employee Scholarship to Nurse Ann Marie Watson-Halls, a veteran of the National Guard who is continuing her education while working at the hospital. Each year, the facility honors an employee who has served in the military with the scholarship. The hospital employs 47 veterans, and has hosted the ceremony for the past three years to honor them.
The event also included a presentation of homemade blankets by South Nassau volunteers, and a presentation of gifts to patients who are veterans by the Oceanside High School Patriots’ Club and the Shulamith School for Girls, based in Cedarhurst.
Among the attendees were County Executive Laura Curran, State Sen. John Brooks, Assemblywomen Judy Griffin and Taylor Darling, Hempstead Town Council members Dorothy Goosby and Anthony D’Esposito, County Legislator Debra Mule and Island Park Mayor Michael McGinty.
“It’s very important to recognize our veterans in Nassau County,” said Paul Vista, deputy director of the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency. “They sacrificed so much for this country.”
To learn more about the Ace in the Hole Foundation, or to donate, visit aceintheholefoundation.org.