Minutes before Suffolk County police closed a section of Deer Park Avenue to dedicate the busy road to U.S Army Specialist Jacob Fletcher, the second soldier from Long Island killed in the Iraq War, a three-car fender bender occurred nearby.
Dorine Kenney, the fallen soldier’s mother who was preparing for lawmakers, veterans and supporters to start the dedication ceremony Thursday afternoon, glanced at the cars, looked to the sky and raised up her hands.
“If that’s not a sign of my son, then I don’t know what is,” Kenney said, joking that her son, who frequently cruised DPA, was a troublemaker.
Fletcher grew up in Babylon just a mile down the road from the sign at the corner of Village Line Road dedicating part of County Road 34 in his honor. The soldier, who enlisted at age 27 after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was killed Nov. 14, 2003 when a roadside bomb hit his convoy in Iraq.
Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington) proposed the legislation that paved the way for the symbolic street sign. The original dedication was planned for the anniversary of his death, but was postponed due to the post-Sandy recovery.
“I’m sure this road has seen him up and down many times,” said Kenney, who has been struggling to keep the doors open at Jacob’s Light Foundation, a nonprofit group that sends care packages to soldiers based overseas. She founded the group in her son’s memory.
Fletcher first responded to an Army recruitment ad while he was still in elementary school. Kenney was surprised a few weeks later when she opened her door to find two Army recruiters asking to see her 8-year-old son.
After graduating Babylon High School, he was barred from enlisting due to an injury, but later made the cut when he tried again after 9/11, eventually becoming a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
“He was just a free-spirited person, you had to grow up with him to know him,” said Carrie Koester, sister of Fletcher’s best friend.
Koester and Kenney said Fletcher’s most notable trait was his compassion. The nonprofit named for him has sent 571,000 pounds of supplies to soldiers stationed oversees over the past decade.
Kenney said as long as there are American soldiers fighting abroad, there’s a need to send them supplies—despite her difficulty in getting grant money to keep the operation going lately.
At the end of the dedication ceremony, Stern presented Kenney with her own copy of the street sign, reading “Army Specialist Jacob Samuel Fletcher Avenue.”
“I was promised when Jacob died he’d never be forgotten,” she said.