The annual tribute to Army Staff Sgt. James D. McNaughton was just as heavily attended Saturday as it was more than a decade ago when the fundraiser began.
McNaughton’s family and closest friends gathered once again at Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall in Wantagh to remember the Centereach man who died while serving in Iraq — someone they say exuded bravery, leadership and pure heroism.
“He was always that guy that said, ‘If you have a hard job, send me. Don’t send someone else, send me,’ ” said Mike Donohue, who was McNaughton’s command sergeant major and is currently retired. “People often talk the talk, but Jimmy walked the walk.”
Saturday’s event, now in its 12th year, benefits veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and a local scholarship fund.
Jimmy McNaughton, who was 27 and a member of the Army Reserve’s 306th Military Police Battalion based in Uniondale, was killed by a sniper while serving at Camp Victory in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2005.
He joined the Army after graduating from Centereach High School in 1996 and served for five years before enlisting in the Reserves. He later joined the New York Police Department, working in lower Manhattan. While in the Army, McNaughton was a squad leader who volunteered for the Iraq mission, Donohue said. McNaughton’s duties included training Iraqis to become police officers. Donohue felt McNaughton’s NYPD experience made him perfect for the mission.
At Mulcahy’s, people who knew McNaughton told stories about their friend.
His mother, Michele McNaughton, recalled one night when her son was much younger and broke curfew. When Jimmy came home, she punished him for being out so late. She later found out he was the designated driver for his friends who were out partying.
“That was him,” Michele McNaughton said. “He took the hit for them.”
Brig. Gen. John Hussey, who also served with Jimmy McNaughton, said McNaughton braved dangerous rounds of rockets and suicide bombers during the April 2005 Battle of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Hussey said he screamed at McNaughton to get down and take cover, but McNaughton refused and instead made sure everyone under his command was safe first.
As stories were shared, live music played and bids were held on raffle prizes. Proceeds for Saturday’s event will benefit the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport and the Centereach High School Scholarship Fund. Donations also can be made at jimmymcnaughton.com.
Vinny Zecca, one of Jimmy McNaughton’s friends who helped organize Saturday’s event, said he is amazed by the number of people who didn’t know McNaughton personally but still have attended the celebration over the years.
“The biggest surprise is how many people are still willing to help us out and come every year,” he said. “People come here and have fun, but they also recognize what this is about.”