A few weeks ago, a friend of mine — who knows well that I am particularly sensitive to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks — sent me a link to a website that’s got a commemorative uniform patch for sale, with thousands of dollars in proceeds going to various non-profit organizations helping the families of public safety professionals lost on 9/11. My friend told me, “It looks like it’s about firefighters, not cops, but you’ll be into it anyway,” so I clicked. He was right on one count and not exactly right on the other. It’s not just about firefighters — it’s about honoring all police, fire, and military personnel — so on that note he was off slightly. But he was right that I’d be interested in learning more, so a couple of days later I was on the phone with Brett Hill, who founded the 9/11 Patch Project in December 2001.
“Immediately after 9/11,” Hill told me during our first phone conversation, “we had all these firefighters, police officers, military personnel, all trying to figure out how we were going to respond to this, and my thought was, well, ‘We’ll wear our hearts on our sleeve. We’ll create a patch and we’ll try to get it on all the uniforms.’ The purpose of the project is to get this standard, 9/11 tribute patch on all uniforms and to raise money for the families of those who were left behind.”
We Will Never Forget
When Hill and his partners issued a press release about the 10-year anniversary commemorative patches, there was a paragraph that read, “The new 10-year patches are designed to be worn on the uniforms of firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and soldiers as a sign of unity. The patches are meant to equally represent and be worn by all emergency service workers and U.S. soldiers.”
Among Hill’s partners in the project is retired police officer Richard Maljian — the man who designed the “Three Heroes” patch, which features the silhouettes of a firefighter, a police officer, and a soldier, over a backdrop of the American flag, with the New York City skyline (including the Twin Towers) in the foreground. These iconic images all stand above the embroidered words, “We will never forget.”
Knowing he’d been a cop in his younger years — he served with the Glendale (Calif.) PD — I really wanted to talk with Maljian, and late yesterday we were able to connect.
“Early in my career I was in law enforcement,” Maljian told me when we spoke, “and I designed that patch to appeal to all the public servants who really serve us well — police, fire, and our military.”
The LEOs of 9/11 and Beyond
It’s well known in the general public that some 343 firefighters and EMTs perished on 9/11. What is not as well known is that 60 cops also died in those attacks — 23 New York Police Department officers and 37 Port Authority officers were among the nearly 3,000 Americans murdered that day.
When I visited Ground Zero several months after the attacks, I cannot truthfully say that “the ground was still hot” beneath my feet. It was not. It was cold that day — it was either late February or early March in 2002, I don’t remember exactly — and when I stood beside that gigantic gaping hole and bent down to lay my flowers, I felt the pavement, and it too, was cold. Why am I telling this story? Because the fires had been extinguished — the jobs of those brave FDNY firefighters largely done. They had other fires to fight, of course, and the grueling recovery process at WTC took many more months, but those 9/11 flames had been doused.
Not so for cops. For police, the job was only just beginning, and it continues to this very day. It is the United States military abroad, and our state, local, and federal law enforcers here at home, who are taking the fight to the enemy. The infiltration of the Newburgh Four, the rapid apprehension of Faisal Shahzad, the heroics of Sgt. Kimberly Munley and Senior Sgt. Mark Todd at Fort Hood, and countless other times law enforcement has kept vigilant watch against terrorist attacks.
“That fight goes on every day,” Maljian said when I brought that up in our discussion, “As we know, there is domestic terrorism and our law enforcement is addressing that. It’s a different front line where law enforcement is the first line of defense. They’re investigating, and looking out, and trying to find these people who want to commit terrorism against the United States. Sometimes we forget about that, because we get focused on the event of 9/11 itself, but it’s an ongoing battle. We see it when we hear about how law enforcement has stopped something from happening or arrested somebody before they could potentially carry out some act of terrorism. These guys go in there and they go into dangerous situations as I once did and they’re willing to take great risk to protect us.”
Bringing Police, Fire, EMS, and Military Together
When he began back in late 2001, Hill kicked off the program by mailing fliers to as many fire companies as he could. It made sense for Hill to begin with firefighters — after all, he was a firefighter in South Pasadena (Calif.) for almost two decades — but he’d intended all along to have every discipline of public safety as well as every branch of our armed services not only represented on the patches, but also wearing them.
The 9/11 Patch Project seeks to pay tribute to all public safety and military personnel lost on 9/11 or as a result of 9/11, and Hill told me that he’s been putting a lot of his effort this year toward making sure that law enforcers in particular are made aware of the fact that this isn’t just about firefighters.
“As a firefighter,” added Hill, “I worked in a police-fire complex and our South Pasadena police officers were among the first to wear the patch. Wanting to get this out to police officers — trying to get it out to police and military as well — was the purpose of the five-year anniversary patch. Just because I’m a firefighter I think it’s been tough getting that message picked up — I really want to get more police departments involved. That’s one of my greatest desires right now is to get police departments involved, and I’m working as hard as I can do that.”
A handful of police agencies have worn the patch, but Hill has not yet gotten the widespread traction he wants to have with LEOs. For example, he has not yet secured a partnership with a law enforcement specific charitable organization.
2011 and the 10-Year Anniversary of 9/11
In late January, a bus bearing the image of the 10-Year Anniversary patch departed Manhattan Beach (Calif.) for a nine-month journey that will zig-zag the country until it arrives in at Ground Zero in Manhattan on or around September 11th, 2011. Throughout that drive, Craig Freeman — who created a service nearly three decades ago to help young people get into the firefighting profession — and his wife Pam, who are driving the vehicle, will stop in a variety of places to raise awareness for the project. Craig has posted his intended schedule on FireCareers.com.
All the net proceeds from the 10-year anniversary patch will be donated to funds relating to police, fire, EMS, and military non-profit organizations. Presently, the only charitable organizations listed are FDNY Bravest Scholarship Fund, the Terry Farrell Fund, and the Feal Good Foundation. Only one of those — the Feal Good Foundation — directly supports law enforcers. The Feal Good Foundation is a non-profit aimed at increasing awareness and educating the public about the catastrophic health effects suffered by all of the 9/11 first responders.
In speaking with Hill, I got the distinct impression that he and his team would like to add an LE-specific charitable organization to this list. If you’re so inclined, reach out to him with your ideas.
As Hill and I spoke that first time a few weeks ago, I bought five patches — one for me and four to give to like-minded folks who would want one but probably never would have had the opportunity to find out about them. Hill and I have talked via email and phone a couple of times since then, and in the intervening time, my patches have arrived.
They’re absolutely awesome.