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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.”