Friends, family members, clients and grateful veterans poured into Southampton High School’s auditorium on Sunday afternoon to honor Chris Cosich, an Amagansett resident, personal trainer and founder of Honor Flight Long Island. Mr. Cosich died in late April at the age of 47.
“We want this to be as infectious as Chris’s laughter and as infectious as Chris’s smile,” said Bill Jones, vice president of Honor Flight Long Island and a longtime friend of Mr. Cosich’s, during the introduction to the memorial service.
The celebration, organized by those closest to Mr. Cosich, began with the entry of dozens of World War II and Vietnam veterans who had attended Honor Flight. Mr. Cosich founded the Long Island branch of the non-profit in 2007, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials there.
Members of the Cherry Blossom Ensemble, a local, youth string quartet, lined the auditorium stage, violins in hand, for an instrumental version of the national anthem, lead by Takano Calise on piano. Ms. Calise’s father, Jun Nakamura, was a World War II pilot and served in the U.S. Navy.
“To honor Chris, I asked that a flag be flown over the Capitol,” said U.S. Representative Tim Bishop as he took the stage after the national anthem and presented Mr. Cosich’s former wife, Anke Cosich, with the flag, which was flown over the Capitol on May 15 in honor of “his invaluable service to our nation’s World War II veterans,” said Mr. Bishop.
The Cherry Blossom Ensemble also played a series of military service songs to honor the array of veterans in attendance, including “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “The Marines’ Hymn,” “Anchors Aweigh,” the official U.S. Air Force song, and “Semper Paratus,” as veterans from each song’s respective service affiliation stood up to salute the flag.
“It was April 12, 2007,” said Ms. Cosich at the podium on stage. “Chris was sitting in the front room where we had our TV. He was watching CBS … that wasn’t his channel. He would watch Fox News. Everyone who knows him knows he was watching Fox News,” she said. “At that moment, the TV was on and he was sitting there. He turned up the volume, and there was a short clip about Earl Morse, the founder of Honor Flight. He flew the very first veterans … Chris was watching this, and I could just see him sitting there glued to the TV. He said to me, ‘I have to do this.’”
Ms. Cosich explained, teary-eyed, that Mr. Cosich proceeded to Google the program and sent Mr. Morse an email immediately.
“I knew we were going on a lot of flights from then on,” she said. “Chris was born November 5, 1966. He was born to be watching TV on that day. Everyone has a destiny. Everyone is supposed to do something in life. He was born to start Honor Flight.”
In addition to founding Honor Flight Long Island, Mr. Cosich also started his own personal training business in 1993, and was certified as a fitness trainer, sports conditioning specialist, youth fitness specialist and performance nutrition specialist.
“I will never forget the size of this human being when he stood up,” said close friend and fellow trainer Sev Kristofich at the podium, recalling the first time he met Mr. Cosich. “I looked at him and was, like, ‘This is a big human being,’” he laughed.
“The one thing I will say that I know about Chris is he just wanted to help people,” said Mr. Kristofich, explaining that the true definition of “to help” is “to be of service. “That’s really what Chris wanted to be,” he said. “He wanted to do the exact same thing for you, the vets, that have served. Personal training, the whole business is about helping people.”
Mr. Kristofich and Ms. Cosich also acknowledged some of the struggles Mr. Cosich dealt with, including his battle with alcoholism. Mr. Cosich took his own life in April.
“I was in a program of recovery with him,” said Mr. Kristofich. “Sometimes when a person has an opportunity to be able to help another individual, they find it hard to help themselves.”
Friend and confidant Jessi Grangier recalled Mr. Cosich’s love for helping others as well as his ability to mentor those around him.
“I’ve had the privilege to know Chris for the last five years,” she said, holding back tears on stage. “His energy just drew me in. When I first met him, I was very lost in life. I had just moved to New York. I didn’t have many friends. He talked to me about my struggles with weight loss, what my goals were, and he offered to train me and help me as much as he could. He was truly a father figure and mentor to me. I referred to him as Yoda. His passions for his clients and his job is always something that stuck with me,” she said. “He’s the biggest God damn angel I have watching over me.”