Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa was a “bulldog” — an intense, hardened combat veteran, but the Coram man had a tender side, his wife said at the airman’s funeral Saturday.
He would float around the kitchen, listening to Italian music as he cooked. He doted on his young daughter. He loved poetry. And he could dance, too.
Bonacasa, 31, a member of the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Base Defense Squadron, died Dec. 21 in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. He was on his fourth tour — four months from returning home for good.
“It has been 13 years since we first met, 11 years of being married, and now 13 sorrowful days since he was taken too soon,” Deborah Bonacasa said in her eulogy.
More than 600 mourners filled the seats at New Beginnings Christian Center in Coram, with hundreds more standing.
The fallen airman’s gray coffin, covered with an American flag, rested next to a large photo of Bonacasa in his combat helmet and tactical sunglasses.
He enlisted two days after graduating in 2002 from Newfield High School in Selden, and met his future wife in boot camp in Texas. They were later stationed together at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “ ... It was our destiny to be together.”
She added: “Plus, he got me with his New York accent.”
Their love story was not without obstacles — tested during his deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Deborah Bonacasa tearfully read aloud a poem she wrote for her husband a few years ago.
As the months go by and I wait for your return,
I miss being in your arms, and it’s you that I yearn
I’m so proud and honored to be your wife
Thank you for sharing with me this beautiful life.
She then lifted her daughter to the microphone, giving 5-year-old Lilianna a chance to speak.
“And I miss painting your nails,” she said, drawing laughter.
Maj. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, state adjutant general and leader of about 16,000 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, called Bonacasa an “American hero.”
“For those who knew him well, I’m told he was quiet, modest, immensely competent as a defender ...,” he said.
Attending the funeral were Bonacasa’s parents, Diana and Vincent, elected officials and dozens of uniformed members of the Guard, military veterans, police and firefighters.
Regina Williams, 72, of Coram, stood at the church entrance, holding a small American flag. “He made the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.
To honor that sacrifice, the Mount Sinai and Coram fire departments hung a large flag from their ladder trucks, creating an archway into the church.
Shortly before the service, mourners lined the church driveway, as members of the Patriot Guard Riders funeral support group stood holding American flags.
Bagpipers, including those from the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums and Suffolk County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band, led a procession in front of the hearse.
Six pallbearers, fellow service members and the slain airman’s brother, Vincent Bonacasa, 28, of Selden, carried the coffin.
Family was paramount to Bonacasa, relatives said.
He and his wife had recently been preapproved for a mortgage and planned to buy a home on Long Island. And Bonacasa, whose unit arrived in Afghanistan in October, had hoped to come home in time for his twin sisters’ 28th birthday on April 13.
“Louis was a believer, and he loved the Lord,” said Pastor Bill Nieves of Temple Ministries Coaching for Christ in Farmingville. “And when you’re a believer, it means that you give all that you are to that which you believe.”
Bonacasa lived by the values dear to him, his wife said. “Work hard to play hard, and cherishing family and friends, because they are everything.”
Bonacasa’s friend and roommate, fellow airman Tech. Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm, 45, of West Harrison, Westchester County, was among the six service members who died in the suicide attack outside Bagram Air Field.
Thousands of police officers and others mourned Lemm, an NYPD detective on his third deployment, at his funeral Wednesday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
Bonacasa was the first Long Island military casualty in Afghanistan or Iraq in three years, records show.
During the service, Murphy read part of a poem Bonacasa wrote for his daughter before her birth and had tattooed on his left side. It spoke of his desire to love and protect her, and his willingness to die for her freedom.
“As it turns out, Louis is a man of his word,” he said.
Bonacasa was laid to rest at Calverton National Cemetery.
With Lauren R. Harrison