100 Faces of War: DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal

Portrait courtesy of 100 Faces of War Experience, Matt Mitchell.

Portrait courtesy of 100 Faces of War Experience, Matt Mitchell.

100 names. 100 faces. 100 Americans who fought for freedom.

So began Matt Mitchell’s journey to paint a portrait of 100 Americans who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. From the commander of a rifle company to an Army cavalry scout, Mitchell has captured the humanity of servicemembers through the 100 Faces of War Experience.

Mitchell has completed 50 portraits thus far, with each being a distinct experience. He spends hours poring over each portrait, as he captures every painstaking detail, with the hopes each portrait can “provide people with a place where they can step back a moment and look at the wide fields of thought and feeling.”

Most of the portraits in the project are of living people. When Mitchell begins each of these portraits it is essential to meet his subject in person to get a feeling for their personality. This was not the case for portrait number 49.

Number 49 depicts a father, a husband, a son. He also holds one other title – Coast Guardsman.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, USCG, was killed in action at the Khawr Al Amay Oil Terminal off the coast of Iraq on 24 April 2004. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, USCG, was killed in action at the Khawr Al Amay Oil Terminal off the coast of Iraq April 24, 2004. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

It is the portrait of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal. Bruckenthal was on a security mission April 24, 2004, when suicide bombers initiated a waterborne assault. He was severely wounded while defending the oil terminal and later died from his injuries.

“With a portrait like the one of Nathan Bruckenthal it is a very different experience,” said Mitchell. “I feel a small part of the loss that others who have known him must feel. I am just an artist, but the whole time I am working on the painting I am wishing I had met him, wishing I knew more of his personality, his habitual facial expressions.”

Mitchell sorted through photographs provided by Bruckenthal’s father to find the perfect image that would capture Bruckenthal’s spirit. One photograph showed light streaming across Bruckenthal’s face as he stood on the deck of a ship.

“Because of this quality of light and the way his posture and attitude seemed so strong and in keeping with what his parents had said about him, I chose this photo as the primary one to work from,” recalled Mitchell.

As Mitchell began to paint however, he faced a challenge. “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” and in the photograph Mitchell was using, Bruckenthal was wearing sunglasses. Using another photograph, Mitchell captured Bruckenthal’s eyes, and something remarkable happened in the process.

Pallbearers carry the casket of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal during his interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Pallbearers carry the casket of Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal during his interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“The other photos of Nathan showed him with a wistful gaze off into the distance,” said Mitchell. “So in the portrait I think you see an interesting thing happen. His posture and body and set of his jaw are strong and full of confidence and bravado, then his eyes are looking in to the distance with a thoughtful aspect.”

Each portrait is joined by a statement from the subject. There is nothing off-limits as many contribute letters home and journals of their experience at war, all saturated with raw emotion.

Bruckenthal’s mother provided a poem written by Bruckenthal when he was 17-years-old. Mitchell was given the poem just as he finished the work.

“The poem had those same kinds of qualities that I had started to think must be important for a portrait of this man,” said Mitchell. “Here is a man who wants to serve and protect to show his love. The poem expresses this so powerfully.”

From Dusk Till Dawn
by Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal, 1996
As the sun glides off the face of the earth,
I am there to hold you.
As the wind blows like a raging bull,
I am there to protect you.
I am there when you need me,
From Dusk till Dawn,
I am there.
Do you see me?
I am here….

Bruckenthal’s sense of duty resonates in his portrait and symbolizes not only his sacrifice but also the sacrifice of so many others.

“It is only a very, very small slice of the public which is aware of the Coast Guard’s presence in the theaters of war,” said Mitchell. “To look at the photo of Nathan on a sun-washed deck with his automatic weapon in his hands, ready for action, is to look at someone eager to serve his nation without need for the same public recognition a veteran of the other armed forces may gain.”



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19 Responses

  1. USCG CPO says:

    Very moving. Thank you DC3 and thank you Mr. Mitchell for reminding us about the many heroes we work alongside every day. I am grateful.

  2. Ric Bruckenthal says:

    Thanks for remembering Nate.
    His love for the Coast Guard was well founded!
    We, his family, continue that reverence.
    Semper Paratus.

  3. L.D. Kramer says:

    Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty.
    I reiterate USCG CPO’s comments. Thank you Mr. Mitchell for doing your part in bringing to light the many heroes we know and work with on a daily basis.

    L.D. Kramer
    CPO USCG Retired

  4. USCG ME3 says:

    Fair winds and following seas, DC3. RIP

  5. Dick Levesque RMC USCG (ret) says:

    Thank you Mr. Mitchell. An excellent portrait of Nate. Not a day goes by that he and his family are not in our prayers.

  6. Kristopher W. Stober CWO3 (ret) says:

    Thank You Mr. Mitchell. I’m sure DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal
    will continue to keep us safe and remind us every day what it means to be a true “Shipmate”. R.I.P. Shipmate, thoughts and prayers go out to his family & friends

  7. Chris Gazey, CWO2 says:

    An outstanding portrayal, Fair Winds my fellow DC.

  8. DCC Rob Davis says:

    This is just a reminder as to how life is so precious. I remember Nate as being the funny and energentic guy who loved his job in the CG. I didn’t know Nate wrote poems but it definately fits his personality. Thank you Nate, I will always remember you and the fun we had. R.I.P.

  9. HS1 Benjamin Bellucci says:

    Thank you remembering Nate, as a member of TACLET South we look at his face everyday as a reminder that our job is dangerous. Nate is a clear example of Honor, Respect and Devotion To Duty. Mr. Mitchell, is there a possiblility to have a copy of this protrait to place at TACLET SOUTH? I would love to have a copy and make up a plaque with the Poem that he wrote. Thank you again for this capture and please contact me with any questions.

  10. AMT2 Joe Morales says:

    Mr. Mitchell, thank you for such a wonderful painting. I’m proud to say I went through boot camp alongside Nate in November-154. His words as the cadence caller rang through our hearts and kept us motivated. I’m glad I got to meet with him one last time in Miami before he departed for that trip. R.I.P friend and shipmate.

  11. AMT2 Joe Morales says:

    Mr. Mitchell. Thank for this painting honoring our fallen shipmate. I’m proud to say that I made it through boot camp along side Nate in November-154. His words as our cadence caller rang through our hearts and kept us motivated towards the goal of being a guardian of the sea and protector of our nation. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet with him one last time while we were stationed in Miami together before he departed on that deployment. R.I.P Nate, friend and shipmate.

  12. CDR David Teska, USCGR says:

    What a truly moving project. I certainly hope Mr. Mitchell continues it through to the end. I was glad to see Nathan Bruckenthal as part of this special effort; too often the CG gets left off as one of the nation’s armed services. Nathan’s sacrifice disproves that common oversight. Seeing most of them in civilian clothes versus their military uniform drove home how much of this era’s conflicts is truly one fought by the natin’s citizen Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen/Marines and Guardians.

  13. BM1 Maida says:

    I miss you buddy.

    Thank you, Mr. Mitchell, for taking the time to honor all of these men and women and especially for this one of Nate. He was a great man, a great friend, and definately a one of a kind person.

  14. Thomas Proctor says:

    Never forgotten shipmate

  15. Rob Adkins says:

    …The article was amazing…The painting even more so.  The poem…I am speechless…Semper Paratus shipmate…

  16. Dholmes says:

    You are profoundly remembered by many, Nate.

  17. Christopher Lackey says:

    I am so reminded of the saying, “all gave some. So gave all. God bless those that have served and those that gave so that freedom may endure.

  18. Dave Corbin says:

    sail on shipmate you will live in our hearts forever.

  19. RayDog says:

    I’m a ex gm3 if there is x I always felt that Coasties are as Marines always a Coastie I did not know Nathan but I know him. But I also know not everyone is completely willing to step up and this puts him in a league of extraordinary Guardians on the wall. One movie The Guardian I have seen that depicts what we are about . Not all rescue swimmers not all sent to that sinking boat to try and save it but we are guardians of the sea . We are very few so very few we are proud so very proud Coasties like Nathan are the tip of the spear that reach out and grab you if your drowning or reach out and protect if so needed.Thanks for the portrait for Nathans family and his remembrance.