East Islip High School held a special Patriot Day ceremony on the morning of Sept. 11, dedicating a bronze plaque donated by the student council. The plaque, displayed in the school’s lobby, is emblazoned with the words “Freedom Is Never Free” and honors the memory of East Islip graduates who have given their lives in service to their country.
Present at the solemn ceremony was recently retired teacher Dorsy Palios, the school’s student council and STARS club adviser last year. Palios was the main driver of the plaque project, which was originally scheduled for dedication this past May. That date coincided with a day the school was closed, so the ceremony was moved to September to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Two students who worked with Palios in designing and purchasing the plaque, 11th-graders Rachel Lopicollo and Thea Tsolomitis, were also invited to attend, as was Regina Pope, a teacher assistant at the high school. Pope’s son, U.S. Army Cpl. Robert C. Pope II of East Islip, died on Nov. 7, 2005 while serving in Iraq.
Superintendent of Schools John J. Finello and Principal William Brennen, who acknowledged the special admiration and level of support shown to the nation’s military by the East Islip community, welcomed representatives of several service branches, all recruiters and liaisons to the Long Island community.
Among the military in attendance were Marine Corps Maj. Alexander E. Gilbert, Sgt. Robert Rodriguez, Lance Cpl. Robert Gartner and Lance Cpl. Ivelaw France; U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick F. Ullrich and Sgt. Philip W. Hodges; and U.S. Navy Petty Officer Owen Johnson. The men spoke movingly of their experiences in the military, paid their respects to the memory of Cpl. Pope and the losses of 9/11, and took time to examine the high school’s framed list of U.S. service academy graduates, recently put back on prominent display in the lobby.
Sgt. Rodriguez, an expeditionary airfield technician from San Antonio, Texas, is the current Marine Corps representative for East Islip High School. He served two tours in Iraq and his decorations include the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. Lance Cpl. Gartner, a native of Northport and combat electrician, served two tours in Afghanistan. He and Lance Cpl. France, a machine gun squad leader from Central Islip, are both assigned to the 2d Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in Garden City.
Staff Sgt. Ullrich, from Holbrook, is based at the Patchogue Recruiting Center. In assignments in Germany and North Carolina, Ullrich has performed duties as a driver, rifleman, squad-designated marksman, machine gunner, team leader, squad leader and detailed recruiter, and has been given numerous awards and decorations, including the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge and Parachutist Badge.
Sgt. Hodges, also based in Patchogue, is a native of Tulsa, Okla. He has served in Korea and Iraq as a launcher driver, launcher gunner, ammunition section chief and reconnaissance sergeant, and has been decorated with awards such as the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Overseas Service Ribbon.