I write today in memory of one of our fallen heroes who died in action while serving in Iraq. His story is unusual in only one sense, that is, he was a U.S. Coast Guard member. We do not usually think of the Coast Guard being in combat zones like the Iraq War. Although they are few in number in such situations, they are there and they serve with the same kind of courage and commitment as any of our other forces.
PO3 Nathan B. Bruckenthal who was the first United States Coast Guardsman to be killed in wartime action since the Vietnam War.
In 2004, while stationed with the Tactical Law Enforcement Team South at the Coast Guard Air Station in Miami, Florida, PO3 Bruckenthal’s unit was given orders to deploy to the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their mission was to provide port and coastal security, maritime law enforcement, humanitarian aid, and training to the newly established Iraqi coast guard.
In April of 2004, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal was serving aboard the USS Firebolt, a patrol boat out of Manama, Bahrain. Their mission was to patrol the waters of the northern Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom to prevent Iraqi insurgent attacks on shipping or on offshore oil rigs.
Bruckenthal was part of a seven-member Coast Guard and U.S. Navy boarding team on the USS Firebolt. While on patrol, they spotted a small native craft called a dhow heading toward an oil rig they were assigned to protect. They intercepted the craft and, while attempting to board it to inspect it, the suicide bombers aboard the dhow blew up their vessel which was packed with high explosives. Coast Guard PO3 Bruckenthal and two U.S. Navy sailors were killed instantly.
Nathan Bruckenthal was a Long Island native. He joined the Coast Guard at the age of 18 and served in Long Island and in Washington State near the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay where he became quite well known for his care and service to the Makah Nation. While Bruckenthal was stationed at Neah Bay from 2001 to 2003 he “immersed himself in the Makah Nation community, volunteering with the local fire company, Police Department and football team.”
An article written in the Seattle Post Intelligencer at the time described the Makah community’s reaction to the news of Bruckenthal’s death while serving in Iraq. The Makah held a special remembrance ceremony for Bruckenthal who said “[He] gave himself to the community, before he gave his life in Iraq.”
At the ceremony they offered a gift of “songs and prayers, wrapped in a blanket,” that was to be given to PO Bruckenthal’s then pregnant widow at his burial ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. The article went on to explain that for the Makah, this giving of a blanket is a “spiritual gesture as hallowed as is the folded American flag.” The blanket was then delivered to Arlington by special Coast Guard “ambassadors.” Petty Officer Bruckenthal’s involvement with the Makah fire and police departments came naturally to him. His mother said of him:
“He was a public servant from when he was a little boy…”
“…He always wanted to be on the fire department. He wanted to be a policeman just like his dad. His stepdad was an officer in the Army and he wanted to emulate them and grow up to be those kind of men—strong and brave and faithful and honorable.” PO3 Bruckenthal was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. He was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 7, 2004.
The Veteran Site honors PO3 Nathan B. Bruckenthal for his unselfish service to the country. Like that of all who have fallen in service to the nation, his loss is great for his family, for his shipmates, for the Coast Guard, and for the nation. It is our duty to remember every one of the fallen, and all who have voluntarily offered their service during difficult times of war in order to protect and defend the freedoms this country offers to all. They are the few. We are proud of all of them.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.