Back in September 2014 I wrote an article for POLICE titled "The Forgotten Fallen of 9/11." In that column, I was critical of both the Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB) and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) for failing to recognize 9/11 toxin exposure fatalities as line-of-duty deaths. I withdrew that criticism in 2017 as both entities established protocols for honoring these heroes.
This year during the National Police Week events, I felt both sad and elated to witness the tributes to the 9/11 first responders who succumbed to the lethal toxins released by the 2001 attacks.
During the Candlelight Vigil, I was honored to sit on the dais as a Names Reader. As I stared out at the crowds, I clutched the booklet that contained the names of those heroes who would be honored that evening. Then I watched as some 30,000 people—officers, their families, survivors of the fallen, and police supporters—lit candles while the name of each fallen officer from the preceding year and officers who were discovered through research to have made the ultimate sacrifice in prior years was read. Through the reading of each name, and the performance of each song, and from the sounds of the bagpipes and the bugle, our hearts were warmed as we remembered the fallen.
Within the names booklet, the fallen were listed under the states where they served. Under the state of New York, there was an unusually long list of names. In fact, New York had more fallen officers listed than any other state.
Many attendees and even law enforcement officials were shocked by the large number of New York names. My good friend Will Gross, superintendent of the Boston Police Department, asked me if a lot of the names were attributed to the 9/11 cases. I confirmed that they were, sharing that 87 of the names listed represented 9/11 heroes. Recognizing some of those names, my eyes teared up with both sadness and pride. Superintendent Gross, myself, and everyone else on the dais shared the same thought: It's about time our forgotten 9/11 heroes were remembered.
As the different law enforcement leaders stepped up to the microphone to read the name of each fallen New York hero, I stared at the bracelet I wear every day bearing the name of Sgt. Edward "Ned" Thompson. Ned was one of the first 9/11 toxin exposure cases to be approved by NLEOMF as a duty death and to have his name inscribed on the sacred Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall. In 2017, Police Unity Tour legends Pat Montuore and Harry Phillips presented me with Ned's remembrance bracelet. Ned's fatal end of watch date of March 9, 2008, is engraved on the bracelet, along with his name and the Unity Tour's rose and shield symbol. If I could see his photo through the bracelet, I know he'd be smiling. We don't always get everything right the first time, but honor is an indomitable force that does find its way.
In addition to the 87 9/11 toxic exposure fallen who were honored at this year's Candlelight Vigil, there are a total of 229 names of 9/11 heroes inscribed on the Memorial Wall. Sadly, that number will continue to increase as more 9/11 first responders fall victim to diseases associated with sustained toxin exposure. We stand ready to honor all these heroes. As Chief Montuore (Ret.) and Sgt. Phillips (Ret.) repeatedly say to me, "We'll never run out of wall to honor our fallen 9/11 brothers and sisters."
During National Police Week, the PSOB also paid tribute to the 9/11 fallen by approving the 200th death claim. There are 60 pending cases, and sadly more to follow with the passage of time. With the dedicated PSOB workforce, and the unrelenting advocacy of the national public safety organizations on the PSOB Working Group, we can be assured that no 9/11 hero will be forgotten.
It is never too late to get it right, to honor, and to remember. I am inspired by those who stayed the course to ensure our fallen 9/11 heroes were ultimately honored.
This year's Candlelight Vigil was a reckoning. As I sat on the dais with the attorney general of the United States and other law enforcement leaders on the night of May 13, 2019, I looked out over the candles burning brightly in the crowd and witnessed as the formerly forgotten fallen of 9/11 were dutifully remembered.
Jon Adler is the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation.