This morning I was honored and humbled to attend the New York City Police Department Remembrance Ceremony held for the 23 officers who lost their lives on September 11th, as well as the 50 who have died from injury and illness incurred in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero and Fresh Kills in the months thereafter. As you can surely imagine, the memorial service for these 73 LEOs was at once emotional and inspirational.
Held at the palatial Avery Fisher Hall of the world-famous Lincoln Center, the ceremony began with one of the most beautiful renditions of our National Anthem you could possibly imagine. I’d heard retired NYPD Police Officer Daniel Rodriguez sing before, but only on television. When he’s in the room with you, it’s truly breathtaking. Chief Chaplain Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass delivered the invocation, saying, in part, “May we be uplifted by the realization that our police heroes have inspired an entire nation — and indeed the world — with a renewed appreciation of the American spirit at its very best.”
Next, we saw a wonderful memorial video (I’m working on finding a version of that I can pass along to PoliceOne Members) that ended with the names of every officer killed in the attacks as well as the aftermath. The room roared with applause. I didn’t time it (I was clapping my hands) but if I had to guess, I’d say the din of appreciation lasted a good five or six minutes.
An Historic Day
Following some remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Ray Kelly then stepped to the microphone.
“In the history of the New York City Police Department, there has never been a day like September 11th — when it comes to the losses we sustained and the courage we witnessed in our ranks. Twenty-five thousand people were evacuated from the World Trade Center that morning. It was the largest rescue effort this department has ever seen. Many of you took part in it, directing people to safety, clearing the path for emergency vehicles, answering the phone calls to 911, and working side by side with firefighters and Port Authority Police Officers,” Kelly said.
As he recited the historic significance of 9/11 for NYPD, Kelly didn’t say — he didn’t have to — that it was the deadliest day in history for American law enforcement. No one in the room failed to have that unspoken fact in their heads and in their hearts.
There was a musical tribute, and then Medallions were given to family members — one at a time as the image of their lost loved one spanned the giant screen behind the podium — for each officer we lost to the 9/11 attacks. My hands were sore from clapping for each and every one of them.
Our Enduring Symbols
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan then spoke. Then Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who was archbishop on the day of the attacks, gave a heartwarming benediction.
“On September 11th, I had been ordained for 45 years,” Egan said. “But on 9/11 — and on the days that followed — I became a member of the congregation... No one preached more powerfully than New York’s Finest. The Police Department of the City of New York — from the Chief down to the rank-in-file — their sermon was about total sacrifice for others.”
The Catholic Church, Egan noted, is full of symbols. There is the Cross, of course, which but for what it symbolizes would be nothing but two planks of wood. There is the sacrament, which but for what it symbolizes would be just bread and wine. Similarly, he said, the men and women of law enforcement are symbols. Egan was specifically addressing NYPD, but I sincerely believe he was speaking to all law enforcers.
Cops are symbols of hope and justice and safety and caring, and yes, of the warrior spirit. These living, breathing, human symbols are so often and so correctly symbolized... as sheepdogs.
“Almighty Father,” Egan said in closing, “we raise our minds and hearts to you. We ask that you keep ever in your loving care the police officers of this city who gave their lives on September 11th 2001. They were — and continue to be — an inspirational symbol to all the citizens of New York City, and indeed, to all women and men of goodwill across the world.”
Pride and Inspiration
The pipes and drums of the NYPD Emerald Society then made their way down the ‘stage left’ aisle, crossing in front of the stage, and back up the ‘stage right’ side. Being a second-generation American of Scottish and Irish extraction, the moment in any police memorial service when the pipe and drum squad appears never fails to bring me right out of the melancholy and rightly into a feeling of pride and inspiration. Being surrounded by hundreds of uniformed officers — each and every one truly New York’s Finest — added such a great feeling of happiness to my heart.
Many of those men and women I sat with today will be on patrol tonight as I sleep — many of these sheepdogs are 10-8 as I write this column.
Stay safe my brothers and sisters.