Before dawn every Sept. 11, some police quietly remember

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer As he has done for the last 12 years, retired N.Y.P.D. Lieutenant Paul Putkowski led a service between midnight and 1 a.m. on Sept. 11 at the Police Memorial in Battery Park City, this year darkened by Superstorm Sandy. Most of those who attend are, or were, affiliated with the N.Y.P.D.’s 61st precinct in Sheepshead Bay.

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
As he has done for the last 12 years, retired N.Y.P.D. Lieutenant Paul Putkowski led a service between midnight and 1 a.m. on Sept. 11 at the Police Memorial in Battery Park City, this year darkened by Superstorm Sandy. Most of those who attend are, or were, affiliated with the N.Y.P.D.’s 61st precinct in Sheepshead Bay.

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  At 10 minutes after midnight on Sept. 11, 2013, two men stood on South End Avenue at Liberty Street in Battery Park City near the path leading to the Police Memorial. Retired Lieutenant Paul Putkowski of the 61st Precinct in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and retired Detective Kevin Fitzgerald of Bay Ridge were there, as they had been every year around that time since Sept. 11, 2002.

Joined by Police Officer Brendan O’Hara, formerly with the 61st Precinct and now with the Mounted Unit, they have come faithfully during the early hours of Sept. 11 to honor the 23 police officers who died on 9/11. They chose this time because they had to be at work the next morning and this was a personal and private act of homage.

Over the years, a varied group of people have come with them. This year, more than a dozen motorcycles lined the curb by the path to the Police Memorial. Active and former members of the N.Y.P.D. motorcycle units and of motorcycle-riding armed forces veterans also came to pay their respects.

Because Superstorm Sandy had demolished the electrical system, the memorial was dark. The flags of the United States, New York City and the N.Y.P.D. were at half mast, as the group faced them, and placed their hands over their hearts to pledge their allegiance.

With solemnity, uniformed members of the N.Y.P.D. placed a large wreath next to the granite wall incised with the names of police officers who had died in the line of duty.

Putkowski had a flashlight, enabling him to read the brief speech that he gives every year about the valor of those who had served. As in previous years, he quoted Theodore Roosevelt, who praised a man who “spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Then he held his flashlight aloft so that Fitzgerald could read the names of those who had died. After a minute of silent prayer, the ceremony was over.

The bikers walked back up the path and got on their motorcycles. Most of them were headed for Staten Island or Long Island. As they sped off one by one, Putkowski, Fitzgerald and O’Hara lingered for another few minutes on South End Avenue. Nearby, the World Trade Center site was bustling and brilliantly lit as arrangements proceeded for the ceremonies of the morning.

On the wreath that the Sheepshead Bay group had left behind was a note. It was addressed to “Our 23 friends and associates and loved ones.”

It said, “Your selfless devotion on that September day continues to humble us. You showed us what true beauty is — humility to your fellow man. We seek to emulate your goodness. Thoughts of you we cherish and hold dear, deep within our hearts. As life goes on and the years pass, we will never forget you. We, the remnants of that fateful day, consider all of you our personal heroes.”

It was signed, “Active, retired and former members of the 61st Precinct.”

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3 Responses to Before dawn every Sept. 11, some police quietly remember

  1. Thank you TERESE LOEB KREUZER for coming to our midnight reading for as many years as i can remember. Although we all eventually moved on to work in different commands and units within the NYPD, the 61 pct was and will always hold a very special place in my heart. Working for the NYPD for a little over twenty years i met some remarkably brave, dedicated and loving people. I saw too many of my friends and co-workers be laid to rest. I know too many of those names on that wall, and have so many great memories of the beautiful and loving people who appear on that memorial and others. Then, there are those we remember that night also. Those who's name appear only in small newspaper articles. Those who couldn't take the pressure and or the sickness the job dealt them. I come there every year to remember them all,and will continue until i can no longer make my way to Manhattan. GOD BLESS THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE NYPD.
    Ret. Det. Louis Camerada

    • Thank you for writing and for your memories. The first time I came across this observance — I don't know how many years ago — I was so touched that it took place in the middle of the night without fanfare or media attention — for no reason other than that the people who were there wanted to honor and remember those who were lost. And I, too, vowed to return every year as long as I could. This is the 9/11 commemoration that means more to me than any other.

  2. Look forward to seeing you next year. And thank you.

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