While Sept. 11 nears its 20th anniversary later this year, the casualties have continued on in its two-decade aftermath, with many first responders and others present that fateful day dying of 9/11-related illnesses, leaving their families and communities with reopened scars and a need to honor their fallen ones, whose deaths from that dark day may not have been in Ground Zero, but eventually captured after years of their health declining.
One of those who died only last January was Sgt. James P. Bast of Sayville, a veteran of the New York Police Department and head of former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s security detail in retirement.
Wanting to honor his brother, Brian Bast, of Oakdale, who is a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service and a leader of the Oakdale Civic Association, set out to have Behrendt Court, where Sgt. Bast and his wife and three children lived, be renamed for him.
“He was an amazing brother and person,” Brian said, who wrote a moving and inspiring letter to the Town of Islip urging them to rename the street.
In the powerfully heartbreaking and devoted letter, Brian stated, “Jim was, by all accounts, a model husband and father who led by example… I am a married father of two myself and I would consider Jim my role model in life.”
The letter went on to say, “My brother Jim was… a stand-up guy. Jim was your ‘gentle warrior’ who was always calm, cool, and collected.”
Brian thanked Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District), who said, “I was happy to play a small part in helping Brian Bast get the ball rolling to honor the memory of his late brother,” adding, “I am glad I was able to be a part of this beautiful tribute to an amazing man.”
Brian’s sentiments were echoed by the speakers at the renaming ceremony held on Tuesday, April 6 (which was Sgt. Bast’s birthday), which included former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Sgt. Bast was in charge of security at Gracie Mansion when Bloomberg came into office. After leaving City Hall, Bloomberg asked Sgt. Bast to join his security team for The Bloomberg Foundation and company.
“Everyone will tell you, if you had to call 911, you would want him to be the officer that showed up. He’d not only help you, he’d give you the shirt off his back, even in a snowstorm… he was trustworthy and kind to others,” said Bloomberg.
Bloomberg went on to commend Sgt. Bast for finding time to be a present and doting father who coached all his children’s Little League teams, despite a grueling daily commute to the Upper East Side that was 90 minutes “on a good day.”
The former mayor quipped that “there are not many on the LIE, but don’t blame me, it’s a state road,” to which the crowd laughed.
Towards the end of his life, Sgt. Bast continued to go to work, even while enduring great pain, and Bloomberg said he did so because Sgt. Bast felt that “every day I put on a suit and go to work is one more normal day for my kids and they won’t worry if I’m at work.”
Sgt. Bast’s three children, James, Thomas and Megan, spoke and said, “He is absolutely loving this right now… Behrendt Court is a special place. Our parents knew it was their home as soon as they turned on the block… When we saw his car pull in, we would start a fire, make dinner, and have a night of laughs.”
The Town of Islip Street Renaming Committee considers requests that meet the following criteria: deceased for one year, a resident of the Town of Islip, and in honor of veteran, first responder, etc., including those who had died of 9/11-related illness.
“Sgt. Bast exhibited his true heart, courage, and devotion to his community and fellow countrymen. He stands among those noble few who did not hesitate to join the recovery efforts following one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history,” supervisor Angie M. Carpenter said.
With hundreds in attendance, the ceremony reached a particularly poignant moment with “God Bless America” being sung and a string of teary-eyed attendees paying homage to a man who brought so much dignity to his family, community, life’s work, and legacy of those who dared to turn one of the most somber days of American history into a triumph of brotherhood and courage.