"Billy Blazes," a New York firefighter action figure, is one of the biggest-selling items on the Christmas toy market this year. Also high on the holiday gift list: "FDNY" and "NYPD" caps, shirts and sweaters. The two city departments earned global fame -- and a permanent pop culture niche -- for the courageous sacrifices of their brothers and sisters on Sept. 11.
The cops and firefighters who died in action deserve every ounce of praise and attention they get. But the FDNY and NYPD are not the only city departments that suffered heroic losses. As we mark this holiday season in the shadow of terrorism, let's not forget the PAPD -- New York's Port Authority Police Department.
After writing a Thanksgiving column last month singling out the NYPD and FDNY for praise, I was reminded by several employees of the Port Authority that 37 PAPD officers (out of a 1,400-member force) were killed in action during the attacks on the Twin Towers. That's nearly 3 percent of the force -- the largest number of officers killed in the line of duty in a single incident in U.S. history.
PAPD officer Donald Conklin wrote: "It saddens me that the general public does not recognize the sacrifices our officers and families make on a daily basis." "I lost 37 brother and sister officers and 37 friends. I believe you have slandered their memory by this omission," another officer e-mailed.
I deeply regret the omission, and pray for the safety of the surviving officers as they continue to log 12-hour shifts, six days a week, while on heightened alert. I pray, too, for the families of the fallen PAPD officers -- as well as the Port Authority's many civilian security workers -- who committed countless acts of unheralded heroism.
The primary jurisdiction of Port Authority police lies within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty. The PAPD is responsible for law enforcement, fire fighting and rescue operations covering the airports, ports, bridges and tunnels in both New York and New Jersey. They also provided security for the World Trade Center, which housed the Port Authority's executive offices and a police station. In addition to the 37 PAPD officers, 38 other Port employees perished.
Among those who died was Fred Marrone, a retired New Jersey State Trooper who served as director of public safety for the Port Authority. The 63-year-old Marrone rushed from his Jersey City headquarters to the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. He was one of the first rescuers in Tower One. According to an assistant in contact with him via cell phone, Marrone had assisted someone down from the 67th floor shortly before the building collapsed.
Mary Froehner's husband, Gregg, served as squad leader of the PAPD's Elite Emergency Services Unit and Special Operations team. He was on the scene during the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, and again when one of the tower's elevators malfunctioned and crashed into the ceiling last year, injuring dozens of passengers. An Eagle Scout, father of four, and volunteer Little League coach, Froehner was an extraordinary veteran officer with training in counter-terrorism, hazardous materials, chemical identification and warfare, and rescue diver training.
Froehner was another of the first responders at the Trade Center on Sept. 11 and saved many lives before perishing. More than half of the elite ESU, most of whom responded within seven minutes of the first plane crash, died during rescue efforts at the towers.
Joseph Navas, a PAPD officer with the emergency services unit assigned to patrol the city's tunnels, hurried from his station to the World Trade Center after the attack. The father of three headed fearlessly into the north tower with his crew. According to Curt Kellinger, a fellow PAPD officer, Navas made a transmission from the 66th floor and was never heard from again.
The tiny PAPD force has long been overshadowed by the FDNY and NYPD. But in deed and spirit, the Port Authority police heroes stand shoulder to shoulder with their famous counterparts at Ground Zero -- and wing to wing in heaven.
Donations to the Port Authority Police World Trade Disaster Survivors' Fund may be sent to the Fund c/o Port Authority PBA Inc., 611 Palisade Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632. Call (212) 947-3754 for more information.