I was nervous when they told me I would be holding the November flag for the ceremony. I’ve only been in the Coast Guard eight weeks and couldn’t believe they would give me such a great responsibility. It’s his company flag – November 154. My company and I have heard about him since the day we got here. His name is on the tip of every staff member’s tongue. We’re constantly reminded of his sacrifice. He graduated from Training Center Cape May just like me. He stood in the same gym for graduation I will in a few short days. He’s walked the same paths and ate in the same galley. It’s fitting to name a building afterhim because I feel like somehow he’s always present here.
He died April 24, 2004, with two U.S. Navy sailors. I was only eight years old. I couldn’t have even begun to comprehend that level of sacrifice then. To be honest, I probably couldn’t have truly comprehended it seven weeks ago. It’s amazing how much a person can change in such a short period of time, but you have to change to follow in the footsteps of such great heroes. Every day we are reminded of them – Munro, Sexton, Goff, Etheridge and Flores. Aspiring to be like them will change anyone, but it changes them for the better. I am only now beginning to truly understand what it means to serve and sacrifice.
It was hard to believe how many people he’d touched during his lifetime. His father sat in the front row. The last Coast Guardsman to see him alive, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Ruggiero, was also there to honor him. The Coast Guardsman who escorted him to his final resting place was the master of ceremonies. The commandant and master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard were there. If the people who are left behind are a true measure of character and commitment, he set the bar.
I never met him. I never served with him, but he was a Coast Guardsman. He is my brother because of that. My shipmates in attendance felt the same way. He’s our hero. We are his legacy. He lives on in each Coast Guardsman who graduates from Training Center Cape May. He is present in each Coast Guardsman standing the watch. We will never forget. Because now, he is truly always present here. His name is Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. He died for our Freedom. Semper Paratus.