The names are never forgotten. Neither are the dates nor the places where local police and firefighters lost their lives.
They are a part of every story, inherent in the legacy and history of the Essex County Emerald Society Police and Fire Pipes and Drums band.
This incarnation of the 35-year-old band began with the death of Newark firefighter Harry Halpin, who died in a fall from a fire escape collapse on Aug. 16, 1980.
“The fire department had to hire a civilian pipe band,” said John Hermann, the Montclair fire chief and a snare drummer in the band. “The guys back then decided to start their own band.”
There had been a Newark Emerald Society band in 1950s and ’60s, but it no longer exists. After Halpin’s funeral, the uniformed officers and firefighters of Essex County vowed they would never again bury one of their own without the pipes and drum honors played by their own.
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“No cop or fireman should be buried without it,” said Jack McGarry, a retired detective sergeant from the East Orange Police Department who is a piper in the band .
In those early days, they were the only pipe and drum band in New Jersey.
“We did every police and firefighter funeral in the state,” said Ed McNany, the band’s drum sergeant (lead snare drummer) who joined in 1982.
They went to Camden County for the funerals of John McLaughlin, an investigator in the prosecutor’s office, and John Norcross, a Haddon Heights police officer, ambushed as they tried to serve a warrant in 1995. They were in Cape May County a year earlier for Lower Township Ptl. David C. Douglass, killed as he chased a burglary suspect.
They did New Jersey state trooper line-of-duty funerals – Carlos Negron, ambushed on the turnpike in 1984; Albert J. Mallen, shot during a drug raid in Westville in 1985 – until the state police formed its own band in 1986.
The names aren’t forgotten. Talking to the band members before their weekly practice at the Shillelagh Club in West Orange is a linear lesson in the grim reality of police deaths. Not only are the names remembered, but the dates and the circumstances.
“We did 47 funerals, all together. Thirty-seven were P.A. cops.” — Bill Connolly, retired Newark police detective
It is a job the band members take seriously. The practices are two hours, with songs repeated over and over, until no pipe sounds flat or trails behind. It is a band of brothers, literally, and sons.
Ed McNany’s brother, Michael, a retired Springfield police lieutenant, plays the bass drum.
The other bass drum is played by Brendan Sim, a Belleville police officer and son of Scott Sim, the band’s lead piper. Hermann’s son, Chris, followed him into the Montclair fire department and into the band as a snare drummer.
This weekend, the band will take center stage during several “Police Week” events in Washington, D.C., leading up to the National Peace Officers Memorial Day on Sunday.
As the host band, they will play during the candlelight vigil for fallen officer on Friday night on the National Mall.
A lone piper for the band will stay for the midnight lowering of the flag to half-staff and again, at midnight Saturday, for the flag-raising.
On Saturday, they will lead a parade of about 40 Emerald Society pipe bands from around the country, including the New Jersey State Police corps for the National Emerald Society wreath laying.
On Sunday, they will be the featured band at the memorial service, where the 136 families of police killed in the line of duty last year are honored.
“We were there in 2002 (after the terror attacks of Sept. 11) when President Bush came down and shook hands with every one of them,” said Scott Sim, a retired Belleville police captain who is the band’s pipe major.
One of the songs the band will play is “Drummers Lost,” written by Sim after the World Trade Center collapse killed three Port Authority police officer who were drummers in that agency’s pipe band.
“Richie Rodriquez, Steve Huczko and Liam Callahan,” Sim said, without hesitation. “The building came down right on them.”
With the Port Authority band crippled by the loss of members, the Essex County band stepped in and did the funerals.
“We did 47 funerals, all together,” said Bill Connolly, a recently retired Newark police lieutenant who will receive a national valor award this weekend for apprehending an armed robbery suspect who shot at him. “Thirty-seven were P.A. cops.”
Connolly was working midnights then.
“A lot of us didn’t sleep. You’d get off work and go right to the funerals,” he said.
Jim Snellen, a West Orange fire captain, said the band plays the funerals “on their own time.” With 52 members, including the color guard – all of whom are either retired or active law enforcement officers or firefighters – they can always muster a respectable number.
“They either take vacation time, or swap shifts,” Snellen said. “It’s important we show up.”
Sim said as few as a dozen pipers and seven drummers will shake the nave of a church during the band’s thunderous rendition of “Amazing Grace” that will bring tears to the eyes to most at a police or firefighter line-of-duty funeral.
“It’s very emotional music,” he said. “We’re all from the same fraternity.”
As led the practice this week, he was wearing a black T-shirt in remembrance of Michael Morgan, a Newark gang squad detective killed in 2011.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Snellen said. “St. Patrick’s Day, the other parades are nice, but this is what it’s all about.”
Mark Di Ionno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.