Petty Officer Third Class Nathan Bruckenthal was patrolling a security zone in April 2004 when he noticed a small inflatable fishing vessel approaching an Iraqi oil terminal.
Bruckenthal, a Coast Guardsman stationed on the U.S.S. Firebolt, directed the boat to turn back. When his warnings were ignored, Bruckenthal, 24, and six other coalition members boarded the vessel. Moments later, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the cargo bay of the boat, killing Bruckenthal and two U.S. Navy sailors, and injuring four others.
Bruckenthal, a Stony Brook native who was on his second tour of Iraq, became the first and only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to die in combat since Vietnam.
More than 14 years later, Bruckenthal’s legacy of heroism and sacrifice were recognized as the Coast Guard commissioned its 28th fast response cutter in his name. The 154-foot patrol vessel Nathan Bruckenthal will be stationed in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
At a ceremony Wednesday in Alexandria, Virginia, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz called Bruckenthal an “American hero” and the “embodiment” of the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.
“The ship is a visible symbol of everything service stands for and a visible reminder of Nate’s courage and Nate’s sacrifice,” Schultz said. “As we commission this cutter into service Nate’s sacrifice will henceforth be ingrained in the fabric of our Coast Guard history.”
The explosion, Schultz said, alerted service members to a coordinated attack and allowed security forces to destroy two additional explosive-laden vessels, preventing mass casualties and destruction of the oil terminal, a key economic lifeline for Iraqis.
Friends and family said Bruckenthal was devoted to public service since an early age, joining the Navy Junior ROTC in high school and serving as a volunteer firefighter after graduation. His father, Ric Bruckenthal, is the former Northport Village police chief.
Nathan Bruckenthal enlisted in the Coast Guard when he was 19 and was originally stationed in Montauk, where he trained to become a damage control officer, helping with fires and controlling floods.
During an assignment in Neah Bay, Washington, on a Native American reservation, Bruckenthal volunteered as a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician and an assistant high school football coach.
During that assignment, Bruckenthal met his wife, Pattie. When he died, she was three months pregnant with their daughter, Harper.
“Nathan could light up a room,” said his older sister, Noa Beth Bruckenthal. “He could make you feel loved, make you laugh, and when Nathan was your friend you were his friend forever . . . To know Nate was to love Nate.”
Bruckenthal has received a host of honors. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, his second Combat Action Ribbon, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.
A memorial is dedicated to him in front of the Northport Fire Department; a barracks at the Coast Guard’s training center in Cape May, New Jersey, was named in his memory and a Coast Guard service dog, a black Labrador, was named Nate.