Friday, August 31, 2012

Manhattan Black and Blue

My blue Manhattan
She's angry like a child, but how sweet
Fire and rain on the street
It's you against me most days
It's me against you, fell
Ah, the snow's comin' down
On the cars in midtown
Stone cold in sheets with you all over me
Ain't that sweet my little gal,
Ain't that sweet my little gal

Thirty-seven members of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department died on September 11, 2001.  The thirty-seven were part of the team of first responders who ran into danger when their better judgment might have suggested that they head a decidedly different direction with all due speed.  The men and women of the PAPD, which is the twenty-seventh largsest law enforcement agency in the United States, are dedicated to patrolling the airports, bridges, tunnels and railways that are an intergral part of day-to-day life in the New York metropolitan area.  On September 11, 2001, a full 3% of the PAPD's force was killed.  It was the single-largest same-day loss of life not only in the history of the PAPD but in the history of law enforcement in the United States.  The harm that befell the PAPD that day was worse than any harm that any department has ever experienced.

Captain Kathy Mazza bears the distinction of being the first female PAPD officer ever killed in the line of duty.   She was forty-six years old.  Her husband, Christopher Delosh, is a member of the NYPD.   At the time of her death, the couple had been married for sixteen years.  Captain Mazza joined the PAPD in 1987 and brought to the job a rather remarkable background, having earned a degree in nursing from Nassau Community College.  Her career at the PAPD was no less remarkable.  Among the responsibilities she assumed was being the Commandant of the PAPD's Academy - the first woman to ever hold that position.  She won numerous honors and awards during her fourteen years on the job. 

On the morning of September 11th, Captain Mazza saved the lives of countless people who were attempting to evacuate the North Tower.  When there was a bottleneck of people at the revolving doors in the North Tower, she shot out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls on the mezzanine. Her action allowed hundreds of people to escape.  She underwent open heart surgery in 1992 to repair a quarter-sized hole and that experience, coupled with her own medical training, made her so attuned to the signs of heart distress in others that a year or so later her fast action helped save her mother's life and - according to her husband - at least two neighbors in their Farmingdale, New York neighborhood.  

She was last seen on the morning of September 11 doing what she did best:  helping someone in need.  Her body was recovered from the wreckage of Ground Zero five months after the attack.   The New York Post  reported that a memorial service for Emergency Services workers, Mayor Guiliani used the following words to describe her:  “She was a trailblazer with a career that was truly unique. She had an incredible desire to help people. She’s an American hero.”  There have been too few occasions in his political life when America's Mayor has been accused of understatement.  On that particular day, he very well could have been.   

Christopher Amoroso was only twenty-nine years old when he was killed in the line of duty at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, roughly two years after he had joined the PAPD.  He was a husband and a father.  He lived in Staten Island with his wife Jaime and their little girl Sophia Rose

On the morning of September 11 - as all hell was breaking loose around Officer Amoroso and the other first responders at the scene - he did something that strikes me as being utterly remarkable but to him probably seemed to be nothing of the sort.  He had already helped lead countless people to safety from the lower levels of the North Tower.  If you have ever cast your eyes upon this photograph, which is one of the truly iconic images of that day, then you have seen Officer Amoroso's work for yourself.   

Shortly after he helped get these people to safety, he was spotted picking up oxygen packs and hard hats on his way back into the North Tower.   He became part of the five-man group of PAPD officers that included Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer Will Jimeno, whose remarkable story of survival in the wreckage of the Twin Towers was the focal point of Oliver Stone's World Trade CenterSadly, neither Officer Amoroso nor the other two members of that brave quintet - Officer Antonio Rodrigues and Officer Dominick Pezzulo - did.  If you can steel yourself to do it, then might I suggest you watch this tribute, which is a labor of love of one of Officer Amoroso's cousins. 

The entire nation - perhaps the world itself - was introduced to George Howard on September 20, 2001 during the strirring address that President George W. Bush gave to a special joint session of the Congress.  Towards the end of his speech, President Bush said:

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good.

Even grief recedes with time and grace.

But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day and to whom it happened. We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing.

Some will remember an image of a fire or story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

George Howard, forty-four years old, father of two sons (Christopher and Robert) lived in Hicksville, New York and was a member of the PAPD's emergency services unit.  He had been a member of the PAPD for sixteen years and in addition to his work as a police officer, he volunteered his time as a Captain in the Hicksville, N.Y. Fire Department and as an instructor at the Nassau County Fire Academy.  One would think that a man who had that many demands upon his time would have zealously and jealously guarded his days off.  Another man might have.  George Howard did not. 

Not only was George Howard not supposed to be in Lower Manhattan on that terrible Tuesday morning, he was not supposed to be working anywhere at all.  He had the day off.  Yet as soon as he heard word of the attacks, he called Kennedy International Airport - which is where he was assigned - and was told to report to the World Trade Center.  It might have very well been a feeling of deja vu for Howard.  In 1993, when the Twin Towers were attacked for the first time, he had been among the PAPD officers who responded to the scene.  That day too had been an off day for him.  However, when one is born without an "off" switch, the concept of the "off" day is forever an alien one.  Here is to hoping however that regardless of what he was doing in early September 2005 he took a moment or two to look in on his son Christopher - who followed in his dad's path of service and became a member of the FDNY.  

Apples and trees.  Apples and trees....

My blue Manhattan
She cusses with her sailor's mouth
And fire and rain on the streets
It's you against me most days
It's me against you
Making snow angels in the gravel and the dirt
Crawling like a spider,
And I'm somewhere inside her

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