The New York Times

December 5, 2001


Day of Honor and of Pain for 40,000


One by one, they rose to stand in for the lost. Widows holding infants. Parents grieving for sons. Police officers with badges adorned with black bands of mourning. "Receiving the medal for Officer Smith," Chief of Department Joseph J. Esposito said with a catch in his throat, "are her husband, Officer Jim Smith, and their daughter."

Slowly, Jim Smith — whose wife, Moira, was one of 23 city officers killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center — walked across the Carnegie Hall stage holding the hand of their 2-year-old daughter, Patricia. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani placed a gold medal around the child's neck and bent low to kiss her on the cheek.

It was a scene repeated again and again yesterday as the New York Police Department held its annual medals day ceremony, which this year seemed to have a dual purpose. Yesterday, as every year, it was a time to recognize the actions of exemplary officers. But in the wake of the terrorist attack, it was also a chance for catharsis by the 40,000- member department, whose grief has been less visible than that of the Fire Department.

Part of the difference can be attributed to the sheer volume of the Fire Department losses — 343 members, nearly one out of every 33 firefighters — and part can be traced to the steely stoicism and dispassion that many in the department feel that they need to do their jobs: With a city to protect while the nation is at war, there is no time for tears.

Yesterday, though, officers rolled down their emotional insulation during the moving three-hour ceremony in which many in this grief-stricken department, including Chief Esposito, often had to choke back tears as they honored their colleagues and tried to comfort their families.

The ceremony, which is usually held at City Hall or at One Police Plaza, had originally been scheduled for Sept. 26. But as Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik noted at the start of the ceremony, "We had interference on Sept. 11."

In all, 72 medals were awarded yesterday, including 23 of the department's highest award, the Medal of Honor, to those who were killed in the terrorist attack. Two officers who died last year in the line of duty were also recognized posthumously.

Mr. Kerik told a standing-room- only crowd of officers wearing white gloves and full formal uniforms that everyone being recognized yesterday had "answered the ultimate question: Would you be willing to lay down your life to protect the freedoms you believe in?"

"Each of the honorees answered that," the commissioner said. "They responded the way heroes do, not with hesitation but with courage and conviction."

Mayor Giuliani said that the city was indebted to those who had lost their lives and those who face peril each day. The mayor also made an oblique reference to critics of the department who have often charged that it unfairly singles out minorities.

"So if anybody needs an answer as to whether the Police Department of the City of New York serves all communities," he said, "the Police Department of New York City has proven that with their lives."

And then began the sad procession of the families of fallen officers, their names read aloud by a somber Chief Esposito.

"Receiving the medal for Officer Dominguez," he said of Jerome M. Dominguez, 37, a 16-year veteran, "is his mother, Gladys."

A gray-haired woman, escorted by an officer who stood ramrod straight, gently made her way across the stage. "He's in heaven," she said later. "He's happy to see me here."

"Receiving the medal for Sergeant Gillis," Chief Esposito said of Rodney C. Gillis, 33, an emergency services unit officer who had 13 years on the force, "is his mother, Geraldine."

After the ceremony, his brother Ronald, the medal still slung around his neck, said, "He was there for the first World Trade Center explosion so him being off duty and turning around and going back — that didn't surprise me at all."

"Receiving the medal for Officer Weaver," Chief Esposito said of Walter E. Weaver, 30, who was a nine- year police veteran, "is his father, William `Scotty' Weaver, and his fiancée."

"The department was everything for him," his brother, Brian, 28, said after the ceremony, an N.Y.P.D. baseball cap perched atop his head. "He lived, sleeped and breathed the job.

"If there was a dog in there," he said of the burning trade center towers, "he would have still rushed in."

Officer Weaver's father fingered the gold medal around his neck after the ceremony, considered the throng of officers around him outside Carnegie Hall and smiled.

"I said before and I'll say it again," Mr. Weaver, 61, said. "We didn't lose a son, we gained 3,000."