Paying Homage To An American Hero

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The late SSG James McNaughton will be honored for the 14th straight year at Wantagh’s
Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall.
(Photo by Danny Leavy)

For each of the last 13 years, hundreds of people have gathered to honor the life and legacy of SSG James McNaughton. McNaughton, an Army staff sergeant, was the first New York City police officer to die on-duty during the war in Iraq.

Once again, McNaughton’s friends, family and community will come together to pay homage to this American hero. The 14th annual James McNaughton Benefit will take place on Jan. 26, from 1 to 9 p.m. at Wantagh’s Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall. Live performances will be held by the Drop Dead Sexy Band, Matt Wahl and Plunge, the New York Shields Pipes and Drums, with other groups taking to the stage as well.

“One day every year, even though there are some video montages of him, one day a year you actually feel he’s in the room,” Vinny Zecca, McNaughton’s longtime friend and organizer of the benefit, said. “It shows how many people he actually touched. More and more people show up every year. It shows the type of person he was.”

All proceeds from the event will be sent to different charities, including the Wounded Warriors Project, the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport and more.

“As veterans, a piece of each of us goes with every man and woman who gives their life for their country,” the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport said in a statement. “Through honoring Jimmy, the James McNaughton Benefit is a way we can convey this sentiment to all Long Islanders.”

McNaughton passed away in 2005 at the age of 27, just outside of Baghdad at Camp Victory. At the time of his death, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “James McNaughton made our city safe as a police officer and gave his life defending our country.”

The staff sergeant served in the Army Reserves’ 306th MP Battalion. In the late-1990s, McNaughton was on-duty as a military police officer before dedicating his life to become one of New York’s finest, an NYPD officer. But when the Iraq war began, he risked it all, volunteering to be deployed in October of 2004 to serve his nation. Less than a year later, on Aug. 2, 2005, sniper fire struck him in a tower while training an Iraqi officer.

Fourteen years later, McNaughton’s legacy is still being honored as part of one of Long Island’s most heartwarming events.

“When he came back once, he said being over there for him is like playing in the Super Bowl for us,” Zecca said, explaining how unreal McNaughton’s love for America was. “It’s something he always wanted to do.”

One of the special parts of this benefit is what it does for McNaughton’s friends and family, serving as a yearly reunion.

“I like seeing old faces, faces from high school, people coming together, like a minion reunion, all for a good cause,” Eric Wiggins, a childhood friend of McNaughton, said. “I think he’d appreciate it’s a party and not something somber.”

In November, a Manhattan community board rejected a ceremonial street renaming in McNaughton’s memory. If it were approved, “James McNaughton Way” would’ve been featured on West Broadway between Lispenard and Canal streets.

But that doesn’t mean anything to the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people who will come out to celebrate his life. When people show up to Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall, they will certainly remember why they are there: To honor the life of a true American.

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