ROCKVILLE CENTRE, NY, USA
1STLT, WPNS CO, 1ST BN, 7TH MAR, RCT-7, 1ST MAR DIV, CAMP PENDLETON, CA
AL ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ 09/03/2004
In 2000, Ronald Winchester played in Navy’s biggest football game of the season, against Army – and his best friend. There were no hard feelings when Navy beat Army 30-28.
“He was like my brother. We had a lot of fun together,” said former Army defensive tackle and pal Doug Larson. “He was independent, but we were both dependent on each other.”
Winchester, 25, of Rockville Center, N.Y., was killed Sept. 3 by a roadside bomb in Anbar province, Iraq. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 2001 and was on his second tour.
“Ron was a very gregarious type of individual who was always in the middle of things,” said his father, also named Ronald. “He was a true leader, always respected by his peers and dedicated to what he was doing.”
“When he came home last time, he sat in the dining room telling stories,” family friend Maureen Chiaramonte said. “He said, ‘Aunt Mo, you know what it’s like. You get a choice to sit on the bench or play the game. I don’t want to sit on the bench.'” In a conversation with his uncle last month, Marine 1st Lieutenant Ronald Winchester conceded “having the butterflies” as he packed his things, preparing to return to Iraq for his second tour.
“He said, ‘Uncle Rocky, you got any advice?'” recalled Rocco Gatta, 59, of Long Beach, who served in the Corps in the 1960s.
“I says, ‘Two things. Don’t ever ask your Marines to do something that you’re not willing to do.’ And, I says, ‘You take care of your Marines, and they’ll take care of you. … Don’t be a hero.’ “
Through tears, Gatta recalled his nephew’s response. “He said, ‘Nah. My Marines will take care of me, Uncle Rock.’ “
Winchester’s family said Marine officials told them the Marines were on foot when they encountered a “booby trap” explosive. At his home yesterday, a steady stream of relatives and friends poured in to offer their condolences to Winchester’s father Ronald, mother Marianna and sister Christine, 23.
“He was the best of the best. He really was,” his father said.
Dozens of framed photos on the walls, tables and the fireplace mantle tell the story of a young man born to be a Marine. In one, a 21/2-year-old Winchester is dressed in a Marine officer’s uniform, holding a jack-o’-lantern basket, about to go trick-or-treating. Another shows Winchester as a toddler, dressed in green fatigues and a T-shirt reading “U.S. Marines.”
Several others show a 12-year-old Winchester at military reunions with his grandfather, Dominic Gatta, who served in the Corps in World War II. Gatta, 83, now lives next door to the Winchester home.
“He knew for quite a while that he wanted to be a Marine,” said his father. “He was just that type of guy — rough and tumble, ready to go, hard-nosed type of guy. He liked being a grunt. He chose that.”
Winchester attended Ocean.side Middle School, where he played quarterback for the school’s football team. When he returned home from Iraq last year, the school retired his number 12 jersey — a first for the school.
“He was just a great kid. He wasn’t the fastest kid. He wasn’t the strongest kid, but he always found a way to do the right thing,” said Winchester’s football coach in Oceanside, George Wynn. “I have two sons, and that’s the kind of role model I want them to follow.”