The signs posted along Main Street proclaiming "We Support Chief Ric" took on new meaning yesterday, as news of the death of Nathan Bruckenthal - son of embattled village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal - spread through Northport.
"It makes everything, like, extremely real," said village carpenter Dave Wargo, 40, eating lunch at Skipper's restaurant. "It brings it right to your door."
Nathan Bruckenthal, 24, a Coast Guard petty officer who grew up in Stony Brook, was among three servicemen killed in a suicide boat attack on oil facilities in waters near the Persian Gulf Saturday. Yesterday, Pentagon officials identified the two other men killed in the attack as Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli, 27, of Monroe, N.Y., and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts, 28, of Knoxville, Tenn.
Speaking outside his home, Ric Bruckenthal and his wife Patricia remembered his son, who joined the Coast Guard six years ago, following a family tradition of bravery: His father has been with the police department for 25 years, his stepfather was in the Army and his grandfather is a World War II veteran.
"Nathan Bruckenthal died in service of his country. He died fulfilling his mission and in anyone's terms he is a hero," Ric Bruckenthal said. "He's always been a hero to us."
Bruckenthal lived in Dania Beach, Fla., with his wife Patricia, who is three months pregnant with their first child. After re-enlisting once in the Coast Guard, Bruckenthal was considering re-upping again, or maybe joining the police or fire department.
"We are saddened by Nate's loss but we are inspired by his brief but stellar life," his father said. "He touched so many people in so many different ways. He was a fine young man. His younger brothers [Matthew, 15, and Michael, 12] and his unborn child will carry on that legacy."
Flags flew at half-staff in Northport yesterday, where in the many diners and pubs along Main Street thoughts were with the popular police chief, who already had the sympathy of many villagers as he fought for his reputation and career against charges of misconduct from village officials.
"This on top of all that, I don't know how you bear it," said villager Robert Levine, eating at the Shipwreck Diner on Main Street. "Something happens that's much more important, and suddenly those things don't mean very much."
Northport Mayor Peter Panarites said the village has postponed upcoming
disciplinary hearings in the case against Bruckenthal, and he extended his condolences to his sometimes adversary. "Something like this puts everything in perspective - what's important and what's not important in life.
"When it hits home, no matter whose son and daughter it is ... it brings the community down to its knees, really," Panarites said. Panarites added that the events "are independent of each other."
Bruckenthal family attorney Kenneth Savin said the case is "the furthest thing from our minds."
But residents hoped the tragedy would push both sides to come to a settlement.
"It's really a scar on this community, what's happened to Ric and now to have this added thing," said resident Jeff Kircher. "The poor guy. Life is not fair."