Former Naperville family eager to hear more from freed sailor

The parents of a sailor with roots in Naperville say they're relieved and eager to hear more from their son, Lt. David Nartker, who was among 10 Americans taken captive and then released this week in Iran.

Navy officials confirmed that Nartker, a 27-year-old platoon commander, was among 10 sailors - nine men and a woman - released after being captured Tuesday and held at an Iranian naval base on Farsi Island.

Nartker's father said his wife spoke briefly with their son Thursday morning and the sailor told her he was OK.

“I really need to talk to him before I feel better about it and understand what this means,” Bill Nartker said.

Navy officials told the family Tuesday night that David Nartker had been captured and that U.S. officials were in negotiations to free the crew.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said it appears a navigational error caused the crews of Nartker's small boat and one other to stray into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf, where they were captured and detained overnight by Iranian forces.

Navy Lt. David Nartker Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

The 49-foot patrol boats, called riverine command boats, were traveling from Kuwait to Bahrain on a training mission when they were detained, state department officials said. Secretary of State John Kerry worked to negotiate the sailors' release and, in a press briefing Wednesday, thanked Iranian officials for handling the situation quickly and appropriately.

“All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food, and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today,” Kerry said. “And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago.”

Video released by the Iranian state broadcast network shows one sailor, identified by some as Nartker, apologizing for the error that led the crews into Iranian waters.

“It was a mistake,” the sailor says in the video. “That was our fault and we apologize for our mistake.”

Kerry said the sailor's statement did not constitute an official apology from the United States.

David Nartker in his senior picture at Benet Academy. Benet Academy Yearbook, 2007

Bill Nartker said the family had no other details about his son's captivity beyond what was reported to media. He said he hopes to talk with David this weekend.

“He's my hero, that's for sure,” said Bill Nartker, who now lives in Ohio.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster also praised Nartker for his service.

“First and foremost, I'm glad that Lt. David Nartker and all the members of his unit are safe,” said Foster, a Naperville Democrat. “Every year I nominate young men and women like Lt. Nartker to attend military academies, and I'm proud to see him representing our country so honorably.”

Bill Nartker said his son originally had aspirations of becoming a Navy Seal but now “really wants to become an astronaut.”

“He has very high goals,” he said.

David Nartker graduated in 2007 from Benet Academy in Lisle. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

David Nartker grew up in Naperville, attending St. Raphael Catholic School and then Benet Academy in Lisle before going on to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Diane Cook, his grade school gym teacher, said she remembers David's early drive to succeed.

“He always wanted to be in the military and the Navy, even when he was younger,” Cook said. “He always knew he wanted to do that.”

At St. Raphael, Nartker was a conscientious student who enjoyed playing basketball and running track under the coaching of his father, Cook said.

Navy Lt. David Nartker, right, instructs an Indonesian navy member during a training exercise in August 2015 to practice small boat tactics and maneuvers. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

She said David and his family, including Bill, his mother, Darlene, and younger brother Matthew always attended Mass together at 7:30 a.m. and were polite, smiling members of the community. Reached Thursday by phone in Ohio, Matthew Nartker declined to comment.

At Benet Academy until his graduation in 2007, Nartker took honors math and science classes, played hockey, ran cross country and was one of the founding members of the school's law club, Principal Stephen Marth said.

“He was a good student who applied himself,” Marth said. “In many ways, he was mature beyond his years. He was a fine young man. Very respectful, dutiful and motivated.”

Navy Lt. David Nartker, left, briefs Indonesian naval special forces before a familiarization ride aboard a riverine command boat during a training exercise in August 2015 in Indonesia. Courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

He studied aerospace engineering at the Naval Academy and graduated in 2011, school officials said.

In the Navy, Nartker was based in San Diego and his deployment was expected to last past February, but “it keeps changing,” his father said.

Daily Herald staff writer Lee Filas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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