CHERRY HILL – Selfless.
That was the first word that came to the mind of Thomas Pagano when asked about his stepson, Capt. Gregory Dalessio.
The Cherry Hill native, who was the oldest of eight children, was 30 when he was killed in Iraq in June of 2008 during his second tour of duty with the U.S Army.
While a gaping hole was left in the family, honors and accolades are nice remembrances.
On Saturday, the Cherry Hill Fire Department will dedicate its newest ladder truck in his name. The ceremony will take place after the 8th annual Capt. Gregory Dalessio Memorial 5K Run/Walk at Christ Our Light Church on Kings Highway, which starts at 8 a.m.
“They approached us and said we’d like to dedicate it (to him),” said Pagano, who was very touched by the thought of it. “This ladder truck that they had that serves the West Side of the township is about 20-years-old and needed replacement. I guess when you get a new one, it’s fitting to dedicate it to something or in memory of something.”
Cherry Hill Fire Chief Thomas Kolbe said Dalessio is very deserving of the honor. The truck will be housed at Fire Station 2, located on Route 70 West in the Erlton section of Cherry Hill.
“We’ve been wanting to do it for a while now but the timing’s right now with us having a new ladder truck,” said Kolbe, who said the dedication will take place about 9 a.m. “The family has its annual 5K race to honor his memory every year since his death. This is a good opportunity to do that.
“We picked the ladder truck because the ladder truck is the search and rescue team for firefighters so we thought it was a good combination with his military experience to tie it to the ladder truck.
Tim Pagano said his brother loved running, enjoyed outdoor activities and “liked spending time with people, getting to know their interests — making them feel comfortable and important.”
Thomas Pagano said Dalessio was always thinking of others and that the most important thing to him was his relationships with other people.
“I think that was one of the things that maybe led him to join the military,” he said. “It was after 9/11. He had one or two friends in the military. He was in the ROTC program at Seton Hall University.”
Dalessio, a 1996 Bishop Eustace Prep graduate, received a degree in special education from Seton Hall in 2000, then went back in 2002 and got his master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations.
He was assigned eventually to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Baumholder, German and deployment soon followed.
“I’m sure he knew where he was going to go because that’s where everybody was deploying to,” Thomas Pagano said. “He just figured ‘I want to see if I can go there and help those people out, see what motivates them, see if I can make a difference and help them to rebuild their land there.’ That’s what he was doing.”
He said Dalessio read books on history, politics, religion and philosophy all the time so he could understand and better relate to people and went into the military and over to Iraq “armed with the knowledge and motivation to help people.”
Dalessio, who was raised in the Knollwood section, was emerging from a weekly reconstruction meeting with Iraqi officials when he was attacked. He died of wounds sustained in Salman Pak, Iraq, which is about 15 miles from Baghdad.
He was there to help others, and years after his death, he’s still helping. Proceeds from the run go to scholarships to students at Seton Hall to continue the work Dalessio did.
Thomas Pagano said the race draws many people from the community who come out to support a man that was well loved and respected.
“Every year the community is really good about it,” said Thomas Pagano, who said registration begins at 6:45 a.m. “There’s about 400 people that come out for it. We give out T-shirts, we have the 5K, there’s refreshments. Every year, a fire truck will show up and they’ll hang a large flag there in back of the school. We’ve had a lot of support from the community.”
Tim Pagano said the day is positive in so many ways.
“I think the walk is a great day,” he said. “People can remember Greg. Do something that he loved. Getting people together, having a good time.
“People he went to school with at Seton Hall come down, people from high school, people from the parish. It’s like a real community event. That’s what’s great about it.”