Blue uniforms of more than 2,500 members of the NYPD filled Avery Fisher Hall Thursday as the city paid tribute to police officers killed Sept. 11, 2001, and those who died of health problems believed to have stemmed from the toxic clouds at Ground Zero.
Families of the 23 officers killed during the terror attack, as well as families of 49 other cops and one civilian employee of the NYPD, were given special medallions commemorating the remembrance ceremony, which was punctuated with a musical interlude by soprano Jessye Norman.
Each medallion on the front bore the NYPD motto "Faithful Unto Death" below the deceased's name. The front also depicts the Twin Towers before their collapse, while the obverse shows the reconstructed World Trade Center and an NYPD flag.
"Twenty-three police officers gave their lives that day. They were tested in ways that few of us will ever know," said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. "Out of those tests they emerged as heroes. They are our heroes.
"As you know, our losses did not end on 9/11, nor did the amazing display of physical strength and dedication to duty," added Kelly, referring to the illnesses that took the additional lives in the months and years after the terror attack.
"We'll continue to do everything in our power to see to it that New York City is not attacked again," Kelly added. "We do all of this and more in the name of those we lost."
Speaking to the future, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the best way to honor the dead was to continue living with optimism.
"I don't believe that they would ever want us to be in perpetual mourning," said Bloomberg. "They loved us, and they loved life, far too much for that. So I have no doubt that they'd want us to remember them -- and also want us to live our lives with the happiness and hope they wished for us when they were still among us."
New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan and his predecessor, Edward Cardinal Egan, who gave the benediction, also addressed the crowd. NYPD chief chaplain Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass gave the invocation.
At least 14 of the officers who died Sept. 11 came from Long Island. Among them was officer Walter E. Weaver, 30, of Emergency Service Squad 3, who lived in Centereach. His uncle John DiStephano, 62, of Plainveiw, accepted the medallion for the family.
"It is a difficult situation; we are very, very proud," said DiStephano. "But we never got Walter back. . . . Not getting your loved one back will always keep it open."
Michelle Holfester, 44, of East Moriches, also accepted a medallion inscribed with name of her husband, Det. William J. Holfester, who died of health issues in January 2008 at 43.
"I was very proud, very proud," said Michelle Holfester after accepting the medallion.