David Letterman's die-hard fans are mourning the departure of a host who meant so much to them for so many years.

Upper West Side resident Don Giller, 64, a member of the long-running web fan club alt.fan.letterman hailed the community brought together by the show.

"To me, personally, Dave's greatest legacy is that he brought this gang of ours together. Not by any conscious design on his part but by his very existence on the air that drew us all in," Giller said.

Unlike Johnny Carson and other previous talk show hosts, Letterman placed a premium on chatting with his audience in his studio, and made a point of directly addressing viewers at home.

"Dave is funny and smart -- quick as a bunny with retorts. He's a fantastic storyteller and makes everyday experiences entertaining," said Pat Fleet, 64, of Greensboro, Georgia, also a member of the fan club.

At the same time, Letterman helped his fans feel like honorary New Yorkers. Fans especially hailed his monologue upon the show's return after 9/11.

"He made us feel what it was like to be a New Yorker, and a proud American," Fleet said.

For the past 17 years, the fan club has held a "DaveCon," where they gather in New York to watch a taping of the show.

Letterman's preshow question and answer session with the audience is always a favorite among the group since Dave would take time to joke around and get to know his viewers.

"The one thing that rang true was that he wasn't phony. He never hid anything. He was his real self all of the time," said fan Shirlee DiBacco, of South Jersey.

The fans held their last DaveCon last week and got to tour the set one final time. Group member Rod Fernandez, 52, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, said it was sad that he and his friends wouldn't have their regular, comfortable place at 11:35 p.m.

He is, however, curious to see how Letterman will toast his decades of work tonight and expects only the best from the host.

"It's one of those things where you don't know what you will do," Fernandez said. "He won't be going for laughs, he will be genuine and sweet."