Rockville Centre honors a fallen hero

Veterans, village pay tribute to Lt. Ronald Winchester during Memorial Day Parade


Memorial Day is a solemn occasion in which we pause to reflect on the lives of those who courageously fought and sacrificed their lives to preserve our American way of life. These service members paid the ultimate price, and once a year, the community unites to recognize the fallen and to show support with a parade in their honor. 

This year marks a significant milestone for the village. Twenty years ago, in September, Marine Corps Lt. Ronald Winchester, a Rockville Centre native, was killed in action when an improvised explosive device was detonated near his vehicle killing him and three other Marines. He was only 25, serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

In honor and recognition of her son’s bravery and sacrifice, Marianna Winchester, a Gold Star mother from Rockville Centre and a physical education teacher at Oceanside Middle School, was invited by American Legion Post 303 to lead the parade as this year’s grand marshal.

The parade stepped off from N. Village Avenue at 10 a.m. and continued down Quealy Place, next to the St. Agnes Cathedral, turning onto Maple Avenue, before continuing onward towards N. Long Beach Road.

Following the festivities, hundreds gathered around the monuments at Veterans Park to honor the local heroes who gave their lives to protect this country.

“This morning, we are joined together to remember why this day is so important to us as Americans,” Rockville Centre Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley said. “Memorial Day affords us an opportunity to give thanks, to pay tribute and to remember those who dutifully served and protected our country.

“These days we’re bombarded with images of who we’re told should be our heroes — athletes, musicians, and entertainers. They certainly have their place and should be recognized for their accomplishments, but the word hero sometimes gets thrown around a little bit too loosely. We’re here today to honor our true heroes. The men and women who fought for our freedom. We’re here to honor their achievements and remember them for their service. Thinking of the real heroes who join us in this group today, and those who are here only in spirit, I can’t help but feel awed by the enormity of what we encounter. We stand with patriots and the families and friends of those who normally served and paid the ultimate price for that sacrifice.”

In recognition of Lt. Winchester and his sacrifice, Amanda Collins of the New York Chapter of Honor and Remember and New York Run for the Fallen, presented Marianna Winchester with a flag in remembrance of her son and his sacrifice for his country.

“It is the mission of Honor and Remember to establish this national symbol and educate our citizens about its significance so that through public awareness, Americans will never forget that freedom comes at a high price,” Collins said. “This flag is also specifically intended to comfort our wounded families who raise these men and women to be selfless heroes.”

The Honor and Remember flag was unveiled on Memorial Day in 2008 to serve as a national statement of appreciation and a symbol of public remembrance, recognizing the sacrifice of America’s fallen military heroes throughout history.

“It’s not about us today. It’s about Ronald and all the other veterans that have given their lives over the course of time,” Collins said. “As Marianna said, ‘We wouldn’t have what we have today if we didn’t have Memorial Day. It’s because of the thousands who have died that have given us the freedom that we have today.’ Be sure to live a life that’s worth their sacrifice.”

Ronald Winchester, born on April 15, 1979, is remembered as a natural-born leader, and a dedicated athlete, who was physically, emotionally and mentally strong and willing to give his life to defend our freedom.

Winchester graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001, where he was both a lineman and captain of the Navy football team. He went on to serve as first lieutenant with the ground infantry and is remembered by his hometown for his unwavering commitment to his country.

The Memorial Day ceremony continued with the reciting of all the names of the men and women who fought and died for their country. During this portion of the ceremony, as the names were being read, local organizations including the fire department, the police department, American Legion Post 303, Boy Scouts Troop 40, the Rockville Centre Little League and the Winchester family, each presented a wreath that was displayed in front of the monuments to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.