Highland dedicates fitness center to fallen heroes

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 6/5/24

Last week Highland High School Principal Dr. Kevin Murphy and Asst. Principal Brandon Opitz dedicated the new fitness center to three Highland High School graduates who were killed in action in Iraq …

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Highland dedicates fitness center to fallen heroes

Last week Highland High School Principal Dr. Kevin Murphy and Asst. Principal Brandon Opitz dedicated the new fitness center to three Highland High School graduates who were killed in action in Iraq – Sgt. Eugene Williams, Class of 1996; CPL. Michael Oremus and Spec. Doron Chan, both Class of 2002.
Asst. Principal Opitz recounted the careers of the three soldiers: In high school, Sgt. Eugene Williams played varsity football and was regularly found exercising in the weight room. Spec. Doron Chan participated in track, band and was a member of the National Honor Society. Cpl. Michael Oremus played varsity soccer and tennis. After graduating, both Eugene Williams and Michael Oremus joined the U.S. Army and Doron Chan joined the U.S. Army Reserve.
On March 29th, 2004, Sgt. Williams was conducting a checkpoint for the Army near Najaf, Iraq when a suicide bomber pulled up to the checkpoint and detonated a bomb, killing Williams and three other soldiers. Spec. Doron Chan was killed on March 18th, 2005, in a vehicle accident near Balad, Iraq. He was manning a roof mounted weapon system when his vehicle was cutoff by a civilian vehicle. His vehicle overturned and he was killed. CPL. Michael Oremus was killed on October 2nd, 2006 by enemy sniper fire while patrolling for the Army in Baghdad, Iraq.
Principal Murphy opened the ceremony, acknowledging that members of the families of the three fallen soldiers were in attendance.
“We’re here today in solemn remembrance and profound gratitude to honor the brave souls of our high school alumni, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation,” he said. “These young men, once our classmates and friends, answered the call of duty with unwavering courage and dedication. Their legacy of valor and selflessness serves as an enduring testament to the values we hold dear as a community and as a country.”
A plaque in their memory was affixed to a wall at the entrance to the Fitness Center.
“This plaque, which we dedicate today, stands as a permanent tribute to their heroism, ensuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” he said. “As we unveil this plaque today please take a moment to reflect on the lives and the journeys of these remarkable individuals...Their absence is a poignant reminder of the cost of our freedom and it is our duty to ensure their stories are told and their memories cherished...Let us honor the legacy of our fallen heroes by fostering a spirit of unity, respect and service within our community. We owe them our deepest gratitude and their families that are here with us today and we pledge to keep their memories alive in our hearts and in the history of our school.”
Mark Cozzupoli, Director of Ulster County Veterans Services, said, “Being behind the scenes with the families, one of the things I ask is what can we do to help you? One mother grabbed my hand and said promise you will never forget.”
Cozzupoli said this dedication “is very meaningful to people like me and to those who are serving today and to our Veterans and most importantly I know the families deserve this.”
The families of the fallen rose as Maddy Oremus-Palmese cut the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to the Fitness Center and family members unveiled the plaque that honors their loved ones who were killed in action.
John Fraino, of the Highland American Legion Post 193, said they always remember the Veterans who have served the country in times of peace and of war.  
“We are absolutely pleased that we were invited to be here today and pleased that the school where these boys walked will never forget those who gave their lives.”  
Rolling Thunder member Charley Alonge said Highland is one of the most patriotic of towns, adding that he made signs for each of these fallen heroes that have been affixed to street signs to remind people of these soldiers.
“I just want to thank the Town of Lloyd. They are very patriotic, and I’ve put signs up on 18 streets and this town is awesome,” he said.
Maddy Oremus-Palmese said the dedication is very meaningful to her.
“The boys will be remembered and kids who come to this room will ask well, who is that?” she said. “I know Michael was very proud to be in the service and was happy with what he was doing. It’s kind of nice that the kids now in high school will know about the those who served.”
Principal Murphy concluded, saying, “The dedication of the high school Fitness Center is a tribute to them but is also a way for current and future students to honor their sacrifice. The dedication plaque was generously donated by the Class of 1996.”