Army Staff Sgt. James D. McNaughton knew that training Iraqis to become police officers was a dangerous assignment. But when the Centereach man found out that the other two men being considered for the job in 2005 had children, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer, recalled Patrick Venetek.
“It’s a show of character, an assumption of risk,” said Venetek, 35, of Brooklyn, who served under McNaughton when McNaughton was a squad leader in Iraq. “Why would I place someone in that position who has more to lose?”
A few months later, on Aug. 2, 2005, a sniper killed McNaughton. He was 27. On Saturday, hundreds gathered at Mulcahy's Pub and Concert Hall in Wantagh for the 14th annual tribute to him, and to raise money for veterans’ organizations and high school scholarships.
In the crowd was Daniel Thompson, one of the two men who would have been sent if McNaughton hadn't stepped up. Thompson, 39, of St. James, still thinks regularly about how McNaughton was willing to put his life at greater risk so Thompson’s daughter, now 20, would not grow up without a father.
“It affects me,” Thompson said, as his eyes turned watery. “I think about it all the time. It’s a hard thing to deal with. I can’t put it into words. I’m grateful he did it because I think about my family and how much I owe him for it.”
“Obviously I don’t wish it was him,” he said. “At the same time, what if it was me?”
Thompson, McNaughton and another man were selected as candidates for the police training assignment because they were police officers: McNaughton with the NYPD, Thompson with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police. The post was especially dangerous because police officers and trainees were terrorist targets, and terrorists sometimes posed as police trainees, Thompson said.
McNaughton’s father, William McNaughton, said his son’s sacrifice reflected his selflessness.
“To me, that’s Jimmy taking care of his men,” he said. “That’s the character of the man to me. He did the right thing no matter what. He always looked out for other people.”
McNaughton's father and mother, Michele McNaughton, and Thompson have stayed in close contact over the years, William McNaughton said
“When I see these guys, I see Jimmy with them,” he said as he looked out over the hundreds crowded into the bar, many of them Iraq War veterans and police officers. “They know what type of man he was more than me, and I’m his father.”