Friends and family grieved for a New York Air National Guardsman killed in southern Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province last Monday after a Taliban suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) into his patrol near Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the war-torn nation.
National Air Guard Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa, 31, of Coram in Long Island, and five other American service members were the latest fatalities at the hands of a resurgent Taliban that has been intensifying attacks against U.S. interests since the Obama administration ended combat operations in December 2014.
The staff sergeant, who was the oldest of four siblings, was survived by his wife and 5-year-old baby daughter Liliana. He carries a tattoo on his rib cage of a poem he wrote to his little girl, the body art appears to foreshadow his death.
“When daddy is gone baby please don’t cry/ Because for your freedom my baby girl/ Daddy will die,” the poem concluded.
Bonacasa’s younger sister, Raquel Bonacasa, recalled the last conversation she had with her older brother just two days before the Dec. 21 tragedy struck her family. The Taliban proudly claimed responsibility for the attack, which also reportedly wounded another U.S. service member, an American contractor, and an Afghan.
“He was excited about Christmas,” Raquel told WABC-TV Channel 7, a New York City-based ABC News affiliate. “He had received all of our packages, and he was excited that he was going to be coming back home and that his wife would be back home, and they could get a house and try for another baby… He didn’t even think in his own mind that he was in any harm.”
“He would always try to comfort all of us and anytime we would bring up something to him he would say, ‘I’m OK, I’m going to come home, and this is why you are safe because I’m out here and you don’t need to worry because I’m going to protect you guys,'” added Raquel.
Newsday revealed that the staff sergeant penned the poem to his daughter before she was even born and had it permanently chiseled on his left ribcage as a tattoo, with the image of a battlefield cross in the background.
On Thursday, the remains of Staff Sgt. Bonacasa were returned to his family and friends in the United States in a ceremony at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, according to various news outlets.
“A second visitation will follow on Friday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., before funeral services Saturday at 11 a.m. at the New Beginnings Christian Center in Coram. He will be buried at Calverton National Cemetery,” notes the report.
The staff sergeant was on his fourth military deployment at the time of his death. He was expecting to retire from the U.S. military after finishing the deployment from which he never came home — scheduled to end in April 2016.
Col. Timothy LaBarge, commander of the Bonacasa’s 105th Airlift Wing, “escorted in Bonacasa’s wife and young daughter to a ceremony filled with solemn faces, salutes and a tribute to Bonacasa’s heroism,” reported CBS Local New York News.
“Duty threw down the gauntlet that fateful day in Afghanistan, and Louis refused to compromise the safety of his fellow warriors nor the future safety of his wife and his daughter,” proclaimed LaBarge. “That, people, is heroism incarnate.”
“We still see his smile, if only in pictures now,” reportedly added Air National Guard Maj. John Torres, a chaplain. “A smile that lights up the room like no other, whether he’s holding his beautiful baby daughter with indescribable tenderness or his M4 with fearless expert resolves.”
It was uncertain how many people attended the ceremony.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised Sgt. Bonacasa as “a hero.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the Homeland Security Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, expressed sympathy. Mitch Ross, Bonacasa’s high school principal, according to CBS, commended Bonacasa for his determination to defend and protect country.
“Very sad for the moment. A wonderful person,” reportedly acknowledged Dan Weaver, a family friend.
“Visitation hours will be until 9 p.m. Thursday and from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Branch Funeral Home in Miller Place,” reports the local CBS News outlet. “His funeral is on Saturday at New Beginnings Christian Center in Coram. He will be buried at Calverton National Cemetery.”
Bonacasa’s wake comes a day after thousands attended the funeral for another New Yorker killed in the same attack: Technical Sgt. Joseph Lemm, 45-year-old and 15-year veteran of the NYPD who also volunteered for the Air National Guard. Both were assigned to the Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York.
The Taliban claimed the lives of six “true American heroes” who “repeatedly and without hesitation answered their nation’s call in the finest traditions of the United States Air Force, the Air National Guard, the 105th Airlift Wing and the 105th Base Defense Squadron,” said Col. Timothy LaBarge, commander of Bonacasa’s the 105th Airlift Wing, in a statement issued Wednesday.
Lemm was laid to rest Wednesday at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne. He left behind his wife, Christine, a 17-year-old daughter, Brooke Lemm, and four-year-old son, Ryan Lemm.
The Afghan security forces failed to detect the motorcycle laden with explosives when the Taliban suicide bomber passed through an ANDSF security checkpoint before killing the U.S. troops, CNN reported.
The death of the this six U.S. troops Monday comes amid an intensification of attacks against American interests by a a resilient Taliban.