Yesterday, I watched, live on CNN, the funeral of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos.
It was a day as sad as they come, not a day for endless commentary from the mouths of the pundits. In my case, it was a day in which I couldn’t help but relive, in tears, similar funeral services for several loved ones in the past
The sea of blue uniforms, the playing of taps, the flyover, the drum and pipe band. The presenting of the flag to the heartbroken widow and her children. The procession, through traffic frozen in mourning, to the officer’s final resting place.
And now the hard part begins.
The devastated families will NEVER recover. Christmas will NEVER be the same. Nothing will.
I could tell you about my father, an 83 year old patriot who was still, in his heart, a member of both the NYPD and the USMC. Had you witnessed the pomp and circumstance of his funeral, you might have thought he was a young officer killed in the line of duty. All this made possible by his old cop and Marine buddies. Semper Fi.
Or I could regale you with stories about my old police FTO, mentor, big brother, who shockingly chose to take his own life. He was the best cop I ever worked with; a brilliant, avid reader, the instincts of a psychic, and a pair of brass balls. Notwithstanding the cause of death, the department fittingly gave him a full “Inspector’s Funeral”. Like Dad’s.
The example that rang most familiar, however, was the murder of Ray Gallo in 1977.
When I was a little kid in the Bronx, 5 or 6 years old, my family would drive to Levittown to visit Tommy Grosso, Dad’s partner as a detective in the 43rd Precinct. Dad always said Tommy had hands like “Italian hams” and he wasn’t shy about using them. The “4-3” was just down the block from our apartment building, which overlooked the Cross Bronx Expressway and the elevated portion of the NYC subway’s system’s Pelham Bay line (as in “The Taking of Pelham 1 – 2 – 3”). I’d pop in every now and then and end up in a holding cell until I was released with some loose change for ice cream at Woolworth’s.
Levittown, the first post-WWII master planned community, was the “country” to me. Right next door to the Grossos on Tanners Lane lived the Gallos. Ray Gallo was also a detective, and knew, since their childhood in the Bronx, Mrs. Grosso. She was always “Delores” to me – all of the members of our families were on a first name basis with one another, even kids and adults.
Between us, the Gallos, and the Grossos, were a bunch of kids who correlated roughly in age. When “Old Man MCDonough”, the only name by which I ever knew him, decided to sell his house on the other side of the Gallos, it was in the stars that we’d buy it and move in.
After a few years, we all moved East to Suffolk County – the Grossos and Gallos next door to one another, and us across the street.
Our relationships were such that knocking on the front door was an unnecessary formality. I’d barge in every Sunday for Nancy Gallo’s weekly “macs” – gourmet Italian food prepared by a a Jewish woman whose maiden name was Schwartz. Before high school football season began in the fall, Ray wold take us up to the track and make us run laps and sprints, throwing us passes as we ran short and long patterns When my father was busy, he drove me to Salisbury (now Eisenhower) Park for one of my amateur boxing matches.
In fact, Tanners Lane had been like the U.N., with grandparents from all over the world speaking with every imaginable accent. The Great American Melting Pot.
We were all close friends, and these were good times. Then, in 1968, Ralph Grosso, who was my age – 14 – died suddenly. That horrific experience drew us closer together, especially Glenn Gallo and me, We were both in 9th Grade at the time.
In 1975, Ray Gallo retired after 20 years with the NYPD. He took a job with Con Edison, the city’s electric utility. On a fateful December afternoon in Brooklyn – the 20th, to be exact – he had a fender bender in a Con Ed car, right near his old precinct. A bunch of cops came out to take a report, say hello and break his chops.
Meanwhile, a piece of human garbage named William Wakefield was coming up out of the subway near Flatbush and Bergen. He was wanted for seven bank robberies and murder, to wit: the cold blooded execution of bank manager Jeffrey Bernstein, during a bank robbery, in Crown Heights.
The scumbag was reportedly a member of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, a hate mongering racist who embraced psychotic views regarding the history of mankind. (Read “The Black Muslims in America” by black sociologist C. Eric Lincoln, if all the copies haven’t been burned). News reports stated his common-law wife and three kids lived in a cold water flat without electricity in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn. His brother Theodore was a Muslim “minister” on parole for murder.
Spotting the sea of blue around Ray, he started killing indiscriminately. He wounded 3 officers, putting one, Lawrence Bromm, in a wheelchair for life, and murdered Ray. Like Officers Ramos and Liu, Ray had no chance. Like them, he was executed, pure and simple, 5 days before Christmas, in Brooklyn. Officers pursued the scum, and finally put him down like the dog he was.
There is much, much more to this story. In fact, one of my ambitions is to do a documentary, while most of the players are still with us. I would love to hear from any friends or relatives of the other officers or victims involved.
A brief summary of the post script: the animal’s common-law wife sued the city for not rendering him proper medical care for his wounds. And the acclaimed television producer Stephen Bochco, produced a “blockbuster” series, “Brooklyn South”, based on the incident (which flopped). A bumbling retired cop, an alleged “expert” on all things Brooklyn, who served as Bochco’s technical advisor, was quoted as having no knowledge that the tragedy included the death of an ex-cop, despite extensive news coverage.
Now to the primary point. Glenn Gallo, one of my best friends, never celebrated Christmas again. He just couldn’t. No lights, no tree, no cards. Even after he had kids of his own.
Without getting too personal, beyond sheer, abject pain, the ripple effect of this atrocity included significant strain on the relationships between Glenn and his wife, his children, and his mother. It re-shaped his entire personality. Glenn has a mentally retarded little brother, Gary. Visiting him in his group home, it is so painful to hear Gary, now an adult, talk about distant, 37 year old memories of his father. They have a younger sister as well.
Ray was a hard-charging, superior athlete. He played college football until he ripped a calf muscle, which would forever look about half the size of the other. He wanted his kids to be athletes as well. You can imagine the pressure on Glenn given Gary’s limitations. Ray and Glenn were tragically denied the time to repair the tensions stemming from that part of their relationship.
I had a close relationship with Ray myself. This isn’t about me, but a piece of my heart was forever torn away, another of many ripples which spread to his siblings, nephews and nieces, friends, acquaintances. It has profoundly affected my attitude toward race relations, race-baiters, haters, and the damage they have wrought on our country.
Officer’s Ramos and Liu will be remembered by those closest to them, as is Ray. But if 9/11 is an example, the wave of patriotism and pro-police sentiment will wane. The flags will be put back in the closet, the haters will foment more hate. I fear that the public’s nerve to vocally oppose them will shrink.
And Christmas, and life, will never be the same for the families of these two brave men.