Story and Photos By Sgt. Audrey Hayes
200th MP Command Public Affairs Office
The crowd fell silent as sirens rang through the streets of the nation’s capital on May 13.
Hundreds of police squad cars and motorcycles escorted thousands of survivors from across the country to the National Mall to pay tribute to their fallen police officers.
“It’s all beginning to come back now,” a teary-eyed Michele McNaughton said. “The motorcycles and the policeman escorting me to my seat — it’s like reliving Jimmy’s funeral.”
“Man, you should have been there,” said McNaughton’s husband, Bill. “There were over 10,000 people, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former New York Senator Hilary Clinton.”
Michele and Bill McNaughton are the parents of Staff Sgt. James D. McNaughton, the first New York City police officer to die in Iraq while also serving in the U.S. Army Reserve military police.
McNaughton’s name was added to the National Police Memorial and read aloud during the 29th Annual Candlelight Vigil among the names of 394 fallen officers being added to the memorial during National Police Week.
“Jimmy” died Aug. 2, 2005, while stationed in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Donahue, also a retired New York police officer from Monroe, N.Y., recalled the time leading up to McNaughton’s death.
“I gathered about 16 to 18 civilian police officers [who were deployed] to tell them a different kind of mission was coming up,” Donahue said.
The 306th Military Police Battalion was being tasked to train local Iraqis for a newly forming police department.
“They [the new Iraqi police force] were following the rule of law, not the rule of the dictator. It was dangerous. It was outside the [base] walls,” Donahue said. “I remember McNaughton saying, ‘The other guys are all husbands and fathers, so I’ve got to do it.’ He didn’t want to put anyone in harm’s way, and that was the mission that ultimately cost him his life.”
McNaughton was pulling guard duty when he was hit by sniper fire.
“Making the announcement that we lost Jimmy was very hard,” said Brig Gen. John Hussey, commander of the Great Lakes Training Division, Fort Sheridan, Ill.
Hussey was McNaughton’s battalion commander in Iraq at the time.
“Mike [Donahue] was supposed to speak, but he was at a loss for words,” Hussey said. “Well, it must have been divine intervention because the words just flowed that night during shift change.
“I led the Soldiers in prayer and then they had to go on and do their duty because we were involved in detention operations, and that mission never stops.”
“It really hurt me,” said 1st Sgt. Pat Venetek, 344 MP Company, of Middletown, Conn., and a New York City police officer.
Venetek was assigned to McNaughton’s squad when they were mobilized to Fort Meade right after 9/11. A year after returning home, the two were on orders for Iraq, an assignment McNaughton volunteered for.
“He was that one guy who may not have been your leader but was known as a leader,” Venetek said.
“I remember one time we were getting hit by mortars,” Donahue recalled. “I’m running around and trying to make sure that everyone is getting in the bunkers and there’s Jimmy. I yelled, ‘What are you doing McNaughton? You need to get under cover!’ and Jimmy says, ‘Not until all of my men are under cover, Sergeant Major.’
“I was mad at him at first, but then I realized he was just doing the exact same thing I was. He was doing the right thing.”
Jimmy lived his life to serve others. After fulfilling an active-duty tour, he enlisted into the Army Reserve and entered the police academy. His father and stepmother are both retired police officers with the New York City Police Department.
After McNaughton’s death, his parents — with the help of Hussey and Donahue — submitted an application to the New York City Police Department to have McNaughton’s name added to the National Police Memorial Wall. However, the application was initially denied because he wasn’t serving as a police officer at the time of his death.
But they didn’t give up.
Having been denied once, Hussey and Donahue made it their personal mission to have McNaughton’s name included in the National Police Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
“[Donahue] has been at most events for Jimmy, and has worked with his parents behind the scenes to make sure they are never forgotten,” Hussey said.
Hussey said that he and Donahue put in a lot of personal effort to have McNaughton included in the memorial wall. They even spoke with elected officials and asked them to get involved.
Instead of submitting through the New York City Police Department like the first time, they resubmitted the application to the National Law Enforcement Memorial through the Army.
The application was approved without any pushback.
“The ceremony was unbelievable,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Owens, the senior enlisted leader for the 200th Military Police Command at Fort Meade.
Owens attended the candlelight vigil to represent McNaughton as an Army Reserve military police and honor his sacrifice.
“The way the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund treated the family with such dignity and respect was a humbling experience,” he said. “I hope we never have to put any more names of our Soldiers on that wall.
“But if something tragic happens, it’s reassuring to know that our country will remember them.”
During the vigil, men, women and children lit candles while the sky darkened around them. As officers’ names were called out, family and friends raised their candles high over the crowd, a metaphorical toast to their loved one’s sacrifice.
“Having Jimmy’s name put on the wall at the National Police Memorial is epic, and it makes me proud, especially as a New York cop,” Venetek said.
At the end of Venetek’s tour in Iraq, he and a group of other Army Reservists made a pact to go to the academy and become police officers.
“There’s so many things that are named after Jimmy in his honor like dedication walls, brass plaques, highways and buildings,” Venetek said. “There’s even a building in Guantanamo Bay named after him. I mean, I named my son after him, and I’m about one of eight [people] who did it.”
There are children today who still get to hug their fathers, and there are wives who still get to embrace their husbands because of McNaughton, said Hussey.