Today is a profoundly sad day for me.
I believed that my first post of the New Year was going to be a happy one. One where I would be proud to announce the release of the print edition of my latest book: Brooklyn Bounce, but the mood was tampered by the announcement this week that my friend and NYPD colleague, Paul Murphy, had died unexpectedly from his 9/11 cancer.
I stood shoulder to shoulder with Paul on 9/11, as we evacuated people from lower Manhattan. I remember that Godforsaken smoke that wafted through the air and left everything covered in a heavy, grey layer. We knew that we were being exposed to toxins that day, but it didn’t matter. The only thing that really mattered was that we had an obligation to the citizens of New York City and we fulfilled it honorably.
In the days following 9/11 we were told by the EPA that the air was safe, but we knew better. There was no way you could walk through the streets of lower Manhattan and think that any of it was safe. It was patently absurd. Still, we did our jobs, putting ourselves in harm’s way because it was who we were; who we had always been. In the proceeding days I saw the best of humanity: They wore police uniforms, fire department turnout gear, construction boots, or the comforting attire of the Salvation Army.
And in many ways I also saw the worst.
But I am here today to tell you that Paul Murphy represented the best and I know that first hand.
The full measure of that sacrifice would not be felt until he contacted me and told me that he’d contracted 9/11 related cancer. Paul might not have been the biggest man on the block, but by God he had the heart of Mike Tyson beating within his chest. Cancer might have finally beaten him, but I can tell you with complete certainty that it didn’t end till the bell rang in the 15th round and cancer had gotten its ass whooped like Apollo Creed in the first Rocky movie.
To his amazing wife and his two incredible daughters, please know that your husband and father was a hero. I witnessed it first hand on 9/11. When countless others were running away, he stood his ground and did his job. He would be the last person to say he was a hero, so I will be the first to say he was.
Many people love to talk about what they would do when the moment comes, but most times it is just 'talk.' On September 11th I saw his response. At some point the New York City Police Department will award his family the Distinguished Service Medal. My personal belief is that it should be awarded upon the diagnosis of a related illness, but the medal day ceremony would take days and would require a venue like Madison Square Garden to accommodate the thousands of NYPD heroes who are waging their personal fight with their illnesses.
As for me, I salute you, Paul Murphy, my boss, my colleague and my friend. You epitomize the Department motto: Fidelis Ad Mortem (Faithful Unto Death) and I raise my glass in your honor and cry: Skol!
You might be gone, but I promise that you will never be forgotten. In fact, for those of you have ever read my Alex Taylor series of books, you will recognize Paul Murphy as a re-occurring member of the Penobscot Police Department..
To those who responded on 9/11, or in the ensuing days, please, please, please, get registered with the World Trade Center Health Monitoring Program. Sadly, the odds are not with us !!