Fernando Colon never met Army Staff Sgt. James D. McNaughton.
But Colon on Saturday traveled from his home in the Bronx to Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall in Wantagh for a tribute to McNaughton, an NYPD officer from Centereach who was killed by a sniper in Iraq in 2005. He was 27.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Colon, 54, himself an Iraq war veteran and retired NYPD officer. “He wasn’t the first to die and he won’t be the last. If we start forgetting what they did, it’s all for nothing.”
McNaughton’s parents, friends and Army comrades were among the hundreds who filled the cavernous bar for the 13th annual event, which raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project, PTSD Veterans Association of Northport and the James McNaughton Foundation, which donates to local charities.
Many others were like Colon, strangers to McNaughton but grateful for his service, sacrifice and what he represents.
McNaughton and other soldiers killed in action knew the risks when they signed up, Colon said.
“They want to meet that right person, have a family, buy a house, live the American dream,” said Colon, who has attended at least six of the McNaughton tributes. “When you make that commitment, you know you’re putting that all on the line for your country. You know you might never come back.”
McNaughton’s father, William McNaughton, who with his wife Michele are retired NYPD officers, said the turnout of more than 1,000 people each year “shows the character of the man” — a son who volunteered for his last, dangerous mission guarding prisoners from a tower on a military base because he knew the other two sergeants being considered for the job had children.
Sitting quietly and with somber faces at a table next to a side wall of the bar were Wei Tang Liu and Xiu Yan Li of Brooklyn, parents of NYPD Det. First Grade Wenjian Liu, 32, who with his partner Rafael Ramos were assassinated while they sat in a police car in Brooklyn in December 2014.
“We’re almost like family, because of the similarities of what happened to our sons,” Li said in Chinese through a translator, looking toward William McNaughton.
Vinny Batteria 49, of New Hyde Park, said the huge turnout year after year is to “celebrate a hero” and to show appreciation to all the cops, firefighters and soldiers who died in the line of duty.
“We’re grateful to James McNaughton and all the James McNaughtons of the world,” he said.