Fallen airman Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa tattooed his love for his young daughter on his body in a poem that also told of his willingness to give his life in battle to protect her freedom.
Bonacasa, 31, of Coram, died Monday in a Taliban suicide bombing in Afghanistan, along with five other members of the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Base Defense Squadron. He left a wife, Deborah, and a daughter, Lilianna, who turned 5 years old on Dec. 17.
Before Lilly’s birth, he wrote a poem to her and had it tattooed on his left ribcage, with the image of a battlefield cross in the background. It movingly showed a father’s devotion and determination to protect his little girl.
“It was pretty amazing the way that he wrote it, what it said, and look where we are now,” said Tech. Sgt. John Cappetta, 32, a childhood friend and a member of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing.
Another longtime friend, Chuka Erike, 32, of Port Jefferson, said: “This was something that meant the most to him, just as a constant reminder . . . of his love for his daughter.”
Bonacasa grew up in a tight-knit family, the oldest of four. Known as Louie, he enlisted in the Air Force two days after graduating from Newfield High School in 2002, his family said.
He met Deborah in boot camp in Texas and married her at age 20.
With fatherhood on the horizon, he wrote in his poem that it was time to be a man, “from your first breath to my last.” He wrote about soon seeing Lilly’s pretty smile and how it would melt his heart. Her sad cries would gnaw at him:
Daddy will be there to wipe away your tears,
And there to protect you from all your fears
“Louie’s very family-oriented, a very good-hearted soul. Family always came first,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Short, 33, of Port Jefferson Station, a close friend and a member of the 105th Base Defense Squadron who was with Bonacasa when he got the tattoo in Medford in 2010.
The most precious person in my life
I cant wait until that first night
holding you in my hands
Bonacasa is the first Long Island military casualty in Afghanistan or Iraq in three years. His family will hold a wake Thursday at the Branch Funeral Home in Miller Place. His funeral will be Friday at New Beginnings Church in Coram and he will be buried at Calverton National Cemetery.
Erike started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the family.
“Staff Sgt. Bonacasa demonstrated a commitment of service that should be honored and recognized,” Erike said.
Bonacasa’s unit arrived in Afghanistan in October. The squadron was responsible for “outside-the-wire” security along the perimeter of Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan, about 20 miles north of Kabul.
He never expressed fear about going into harm’s way, at least to his family, they said. This was his fourth and final tour, his family said, and he was looking forward to coming home.
In Afghanistan, he felt secure “with his brothers,” his sister Raquel, 27, of Edgewater, New Jersey, said a day after his death.
Bonacasa was four months away from returning to Long Island, where he and his wife planned to have a second child and buy a home, his family said.
“He just wanted to live longer to take care of his family,” said a brother, Vincent, 28, of Selden.
In his writing, Bonacasa agonized over being away from his family, far off somewhere “with his boots on the ground,” he wrote. But he was doing so to keep everyone safe. Especially Lilly.
“He always wanted Lilly by his side, even if he wasn’t there with her,” said Cappetta, a Suffolk County police officer.
The last few lines of the poem read:
When daddy is gone baby please don’t cry
Because for your freedom my baby girl
Daddy will die
Bonacasa’s sister Raquel wrote in a text message: “He died for all of us.”
— With Martin C. Evans