Some years ago, a visitor to the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) JFK Airport station house commented about the various tributes and memorials to fallen PAPD officers, saying, “How do you work here surrounded by death?”
That question certainly gives one pause to take a different look around and become reacquainted with the reminders of how dangerous this job can be.
One definition of a memorial is “serving to preserve remembrance.” Police departments preserve the memory of their fallen with memorials, artifacts and tributes, keeping true to the maxim, “Always Honored, Never Forgotten.”
The Port Authority Police Benevolent Association (PAPBA), the union representing Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers, highlights the sacrifices of 37 Port Authority police officers killed in the line of duty on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center on a memorial located in the vestibule of the PAPBA building. The PAPBA also displays memorial plaques of PAPD officers who died in the line of duty prior to September 11, 2001, in the PAPBA conference room. Unfortunately, the sacrifice continues with post-9/11 illness deaths, prompting Port Authority PBA President Frank Conti, also a National Association of Police Organizations regional vice president, to embark on a plan to renovate the PAPBA office memorial to include all line-of-duty deaths suffered by the PAPD.
The new PBA memorial will join the existing PAPD 37 memorial with matching black granite tiles and laser-etched likenesses of each fallen officer. The memorial will be a remembrance of those PAPD police officers who died in the line of duty prior to September 11, 2001, including the recently discovered line-of-duty deaths of Sergeant John V. McCabe (EOW 8/22/1946), the first Port Authority police officer to die in the line of duty, and Police Officer John J. Kane (EOW 10/26/1950). Unfortunately, no photograph exists of another historical PAPD line-of-duty death, Police Officer Charles Kessler (EOW 12/16/1951). PAPD Headquarters exhausted all investigation avenues to locate family members of Kessler or a photograph of him without success. His memorial tile will include a laser etching of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial shield and rose.
As previously stated, the sacrifice continues, and those who have died in the line of duty after September 11, 2001, will be memorialized. Those include the 14 Port Authority police officers who succumbed to 9/11 illnesses contracted during their heroic and selfless work in the toxic environment of the World Trade Center Rescue and Recovery Mission. In addition, the two latest non-9/11-related line-of-duty deaths, Lieutenant Robert Jones (EOW 6/15/2019) and Police Officer Anthony Varvaro
(EOW 9/11/2022), will also be honored with memorial tiles.
“This will be a proper memorial to all fallen PAPD members regardless of rank. We have to uphold our promise to never forget their sacrifice,” Conti said. “Everyone who works in the PBA office and all who visit will be reminded that a Port Authority police officer’s sworn, sacred oath at times results in an ultimate sacrifice.”
The memorial is being built by the American Monument Company, a local Englewood, New Jersey, business owned by Greg Boyajian and family with a deep history of creating and restoring memorials. In addition to the PAPBA memorial, the company is currently finishing the United States Military Academy West Point Cadet Memorial honoring West Point cadets who died while enrolled at the academy. The memorial will be installed in the West Point Cadet Chapel. Boyajian said the company is also in the process of restoring the General Tadeusz Kosciuszko statue in West Point’s Memorial Park. That statue was originally installed in 1828.
Boyajian commented on his work on the PAPBA memorial, saying, “It is a wonderful and great project, and we are happy to be part of honoring these heroes. It is also very special for us to be partnered with a neighbor of ours to produce such a significant memorial.”
PAPBA Second Vice President Cesar Morales reflected on the current PAPBA 9/11 memorial, reminiscing how every morning when he enters the PAPBA building, he is “reminded of the dangers our members face each day. I also think of the sacrifice our 37 brothers and sister made on that horrible morning.”
Conti anticipates the memorial to be completed by November 2023. The plans for the unveiling include inviting the families of our fallen to be among the first to view the memorial to their loved ones.
Returning to that long-ago visitor to the JFK Command who questioned how we can continually be reminded of the ultimate sacrifices of Port Authority police officers, all should know, we will never forget and always honor our fallen.