Family of fallen airman follows through on posthumous surprise

06/11/2018 6:00 AM |

As a surprise for when his son returned home from his final combat tour, John Raguso purchased a new outboard engine for his son’s EdgeWater boat.

Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, a member of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing based in Westhampton Beach, found comfort cruising on the boat in Peconic Bay during his downtime from a busy schedule that included his role as lieutenant in the FDNY and as a volunteer in the Commack Fire Department. He served as a special missions aviation specialist in the 106th.

“Chris was larger than life,” his father said. “He was like the Hulk, like The Rock, like a comic book action hero. He was involved in so many different things to save lives.”

Master Sgt. Raguso, the father of two young girls, was due home from his tour in Iraq this month just in time for Father’s Day. Instead, he was buried at Calverton National Cemetery in late March after being killed in a helicopter crash during a troop transport mission near the Iraq and Syria border. He died one day after his 39th birthday. He was one of seven airmen killed in the crash and one of four from the 106th, including Tech. Sgt. Dashan Briggs, a Riverhead native.

Two weeks after the funeral, Mr. Raguso, 68, received a call from Bill Witzke, president of Albertson Marine in Southold. Mr. Raguso had been in contact with Mr. Witzke about installing the engine before his son died. Mr. Witzke asked if they were still going to install the engine on Master Sgt. Raguso’s boat.

“I said, ‘Yes we are,’ ” Mr. Raguso said.

Mr. Witzke had offered to complete the final work —installing the engine as well as other parts of the boat — for free.

“We wanted to do something for this family,” Mr. Witzke said. “I just wanted to help, that’s all. After what the family went through and is going through, we just wanted to do the right thing.”

On Sunday, Mr. Raguso, his wife Laura, and their son Marc, got to see the finished product. They were joined by Marc’s two children and some of Master Sgt. Raguso’s friends in the FDNY. Afterward, they went back to Mr. Raguso’s home in Jamesport where the father and his son Marc took the boat out for a spin for the first time with its new engine.

The crew at Albertson Marine had installed the engine along with all the rigging components, such as steering and controls. The project took about a week to complete, said Mr. Witzke’s son, Dave.

Mr. Raguso said his son loved to spend time on the boat with his wife, Carmella, and their daughters Mila, 6, and Eva, 5. He said the young family would go for Sunday rides in Peconic Bay, where they would clam, watch the tides, go on the sandbar and catch sea robins. While he lived in Commack, Master Sgt. Raguso often spent time during the summers and on weekends in Jamesport, his father said.

“[Chris’s] wife and his girls, and his brother and his two kids, are going to enjoy this summer coming up with a new engine on that boat and every day they take it out they’re going to think of their brother, their husband, their dad or their uncle,” Mr. Raguso said.

Master Sgt. Raguso lived his life to the fullest, referring to his years over the past decade as his “extra time,” his father said. During his first tour in Iraq in 2004, a mortar round landed about 10 feet away from him and didn’t explode.

Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso is laid to rest at Calverton National Cemetery in March. (Credit: Air National Guard/Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell)

Master Sgt. Raguso realized he had been spared from death and used the time he had been given to help as many people as possible. His father said his son saved 420 lives through his service in the fire departments and with 106th Rescue Wing, where he aided most recently in relief efforts following Hurricanes Harvey and Maria last year.

Mr. Raguso said it’s still difficult for his family to cope with their loss, but the kindness of those at Albertson Marine has helped.

He hopes his son’s story inspires people to serve their communities and make a difference.

“We have a double negative for the next weekend where the father of two young girls is not going to be there for them [on Father’s Day] and when this group gets back from a successful tour in Iraq, Chris is not going to be coming back with them,” Mr. Raguso said. “That’s really the continuing struggle we have as a family. His story may be inspirational, and it is, for everyone else — to step up and be like him and take his place — but his loss is the greatest tragedy of my lifetime.”

Top photo caption: John Raguso and his son Marc took the boat out for the first time Sunday with its new engine. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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John Raguso and his son Marc watch as the boat goes into the water. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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