Francis Lewis High School JROTC needs to raise $70K for ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A trailblazing junior battalion in Queens will make their mark in Normandy next year — if they can raise $70,000 in eight months.

The cash-strapped Francis Lewis High School JROTC has until May 2014 to fully fund a trip to march in the 70th Anniversary D-Day Parade in France next June, The Courier has learned.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the cadets,” said retired 1st Sgt. Richard Gogarty, who started the JROTC program almost 20 years ago.

It is also the first international honor extended to the country’s largest JROTC program.

About 18 cadets from the school’s Patriot Battalion will be chosen to represent New York during the historic event on June 6, 2014.

American troops reclaimed the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise from Nazi tyranny at the height of World War II on that day in 1944. Nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and marched across Europe to defeat Hitler.

Sainte-Mere-Eglise was the first Normandy village to be liberated. The parade will take its first steps through the town.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” said Senior Army Instructor retired Lt. Col. Al Lahood. “The battalion’s reputation precedes them. We’re one of the few JROTC units that will represent the state.”

There will be an official ceremony at the American Cemetery on June 5, 2014 to memorialize the thousands laid to rest on the beaches of Normandy nearly seven decades ago. The parade will also feature a musical tribute from dozens of groups across the country.

But with a growing battalion — a record breaking 400 freshmen class this year — and $50,000 of budgeted funds already set aside for major annual competitions, JROTC officials are seeking donations.

“We live for the pressure,” said cadet Lt. Col Maibe Ruiz, the battalion’s commander. “It’s not discouraging, but encouraging. That’s what we need to use as motivation to make money.”

The trip takes place during the high school’s senior prom. But some students said they would be happy to trade in the big dance for a chance to be part of history.

“This is more life changing,” said cadet Capt. Asad Rehman. “Prom is just one night. I’ll never have this opportunity again. It’s my duty to represent the state and the country.”

Tax deductible checks can be made out to the Francis Lewis JROTC at 58-20 Utopia Parkway, Fresh Meadows, NY 11365. A website for online donations will also be up and running later this month, officials said.

The battalion also expects to hold a series of extra fundraisers.

“We’ll get it done,” Rehman said.