The School of Sacrifice

They may not have been the best of friends, but they were teammates -- on the playing field and the battlefield.

James Regan, a star midfielder, was relentless on the attack while big, strapping Ronald D. Winchester covered defense for the champion lacrosse team at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., a few years ago.

And the two young men both made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, serving in the military and dying in Iraq.

Winchester was killed while on foot patrol in western Iraq in September 2004. Regan died in February when a roadside bomb exploded outside his Humvee. In addition to Michael LiCalzi, who joined the Marines and died last May in al Anbar province, three graduates of the prestigious all-boys Catholic school have died in the last three years in the current war.

"We teach character and a lot of those lessons come from the Gospel," said the Rev. James Williams, the school's president. "They learn how to serve others. Our young men go on to do things for other people."

The brave trio joins an honor roll of the school's graduates -- 55 in total -- who've died serving their country in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Iraq War. About 70 of the school's graduates have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and five to 10 of this year's seniors are expected to attend military academies, according to Williams. Each October, they hold a Gold Star mass to honor those who've died in battle.

Renowned for its tough academic standards and its sense of faith, the school has alumni who include IBM CEO Louis Gerstner Jr., Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly, NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

Williams remembers the young men well, from LiCalzi's popularity and Winchester's sense of humor to Regan's big smile. "I did Jimmy's funeral mass and I was teasing that looking at the picture of him at the wake, it was pretty clear that the Marines must have forced him to put that tough-guy look on his face," he said, adding that he last saw Regan in December on his last visit home.

Regan, who played lacrosse at Duke University and helped the team reach the ACC championships in 2001 and 2002, turned down several schools to enlist and become an Army Ranger.

The three men were honored Saturday at the annual Memorial Day fireworks display in North Hempstead, Long Island. "Ron always used to come down to the parades with me," said his mother, Marianna Winchester. "This past weekend, I just stood there and thought about him. I always came to the parade. I never thought I'd be part of the parade."

Winchester always wanted to be a Marine, inspired by his grandfather who was a veteran of the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II and his uncle who served in Vietnam. "Even as a young boy, at 2 years old, he'd say, 'I want to be a Marine' for Halloween and he'd put on the costume up until he was 5," remembered his mother. "I'd say, 'But you were that last year, Ronnie!'"

Winchester keeps in touch with her son's friend Doug Larsen, who just went to Iraq for his first tour of duty. And she knows the parents of LiCalzi and Regan, whom she met at their sons' wakes.

"For all those years, we sat in the bleachers at games, not realizing that we'd share this experience some day," she said.