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"9/11 I remember..."

There is...a time to be born, and a time to die...
Ecclesiastes 3:2

I remember

I remember...When Police Officer Jerome Dominguez and I became partners, he was just assigned to the Four-Two (42nd Precinct) when I met him in the locker room. I introduced myself and helped him find a decent locker he could use. I was in uniform already so I went down stairs to the sitting room while he squared away his locker. He came down later and the Sargent conducting the roll call called our names and to our surprise we were assigned a radio motor patrol car. It was a 4pm to midnight tour and we flipped a coin to see who was going to drive the first half of the tour. During our tour, we learned that we had so much in common; to begin with we were both born and raised in the Big Apple, proud native New Yorkers. Our character and police and military bearing were the same, and especially our Hispanic culture which we shared alike. But best of all we absolutely loved going to the rifle range. We became a team that very evening. It was a match made in heaven as we patrolled the mean streets of the south Bronx.

I remember...The very best times we had together were when we were either on patrol or at the rifle range. When we worked the Four-Two, the bad folk in our sector knew when Jerome and I were on patrol because they kept their distance, kept out of sight or simply respected. We were experts on firearms and tactics. We used to go to the rifle range at least once a week and literally expend hundreds of rounds of ammunition between pistol, rifle and shotgun on target shooting and combat courses. We were able to do that because we each had a reloading press for pistol and rifle. But I was the one with the mec 12 gauge shot shell reloading press. We always shared the reloading and when it was his turn, I would remove my shot shell reloading press from my bench and bring it to him.

I remember...When we used to go out to dine with our wives and my infant daughter Rosa Maria, and if we didn't decide on a restaurant in the city then we went to one out on Long Island. I recall once so dearly, while we were waiting for a table he asked my wife if he could hold my daughter. When he held her he sang to her beautifully in Spanish the song of my daughter's name "Rosa Maria"...it looked like he was singing to a tiny porcelain doll which is how she looked in his arms. When ordering dinner I would ask for a glass of the house wine or a Budweiser. But he would always get a diet Pepsi. I really had to hand it to him...he did not drink! However, we moved on our separate ways when we were reassigned. I was assigned to the Special Services Bureau, police headquarters and Jerome went into Highway Patrol, Motorcycle.

I remember...It was by chance that one afternoon, as I was leaving the Bronx court house that I bumped into Jerome. It had been a long while since I'd seen him from the time we were reassigned. It was really great to see him again and he looked sharp in his Highway Patrol uniform. We talked a bit and he too had a court case that he had to tend to. I walked him to his motorcycle parked right outside the court house. As we parted I gave him a hug and said: "Take care man, see you around! I'll be in touch" and I waved as he took off on his motorcycle. But I never did keep in touch and I never saw him again after that.

I remember...When I retired from the NYPD I sold my house and moved to Puerto Rico with my wife and two daughters. We lived on a small acreage farm in the town of Aguadilla where I began to raise and train horses. One very early morning I was going to be the first one at the barber shop but there were several others already there waiting their turn when I arrived so I had to wait a little while. My barber, Lallo, (a retired Master Sargent of the Army National Guard of Puerto Rico) always had a radio on in his shop. When I heard on the radio in Spanish: "...en la cuidad de Nueva York una avioneta estrallo en uno de los torres gemelos..." Translation: "...in NYC, a light aircraft crashed into one of the twin towers..." Lallo looks at me and says (in Spanish) "You're from New York, what do you think of that?"

I remember...When I was very young I lived near the East River and I use to visit the East River Park quite often especially to watch the hydro airplanes (a light aircraft with a single propeller and pontoons as landing gear) take off from and land in the waters of the East River. It was so much fun to watch. The airplanes were beautiful, and each a different color; red, yellow, and green with white, floating on the river, engines running, propellers spinning. They would take off one at a time with engines roaring one behind the other. Many times I would see one of those planes fly under the bridge, one right behind the other, however, pulling a stunt like that was prohibited and the pilot would be fined by the FAA if they were reported, but it was so fascinating to watch, it was very impressive. I also saw some accidents occur. I saw one plane stall and as it was floating away with the current, it collided with another plane ready to take off and both were damaged. I saw another incident where a plane stalled and was taken by a strong current. The plane was bouncing off the docks on the Brooklyn side of the East River and the pilot was standing on the pontoon holding on to the pylon. The NYPD Harbor Patrol responded and threw a line to the pilot and tied it to the plane and it was towed to safety. All of us watching from the Manhattan side started clapping our hands applauding the Harbor Patrol unit...and remembering all this it occurred to me that perhaps since the Twin Towers were near the river, that a pilot from one of these planes decided to pull a stunt like attempting to fly between the towers and miscalculated thereby hitting one by mistake. And that's just how I explained it to Lallo.

I remember...This time I was sitting on the barber's chair getting my haircut when I heard on the radio again in Spanish: "...en la cuidad de Nueva York dos avionetas chocaron al frente de los torres gemelos..." Translation: "...in NYC, two light aircraft collided in front of the twin towers..." we looked at each other with puzzled expressions. I didn't know what to say.

I remember...I went straight home after my haircut. My wife made coffee and right after that I went down stairs to work with the horses. Training and caring for horses is very hard work especially under a hot tropical sun but also very rewarding. After working with my horses I went back upstairs to rest. My 20 minute nap turned into a deep sleep. My daughters came home early from school that day and they rushed into my bed room waking me up, Rosa Maria saying: "Daddy, Daddy did you hear what happened?!" as Margarita was handing me a drawing she did with color markers. I was still dazed from waking up and looking at the drawing I was confused. It was of two buildings; one on fire with an airplane crashed into it and another airplane flying towards another building. I asked my daughter: "What is this?!" She answered: "The teacher told us that before we go home to draw a picture of what happened and write a prayer." And just below the drawing she wrote as a prayer: "God bless everybody that died there". I said: "What?" and I still didn't get it.

I remember...While I was still holding the drawing in my hand, both my daughters were exclaiming: "It's on TV!" I asked them what channel and they didn't know, but it didn't matter...as soon as the screen went on there it was, the Twin Towers on fire. And then the continuance of the instant replay of the planes crashing into the towers, this scene was practically on every channel. And all of a sudden it occurred to me; the news bulletin on the radio at the barber shop, however inaccurate, this was it! My heart was pounding in my chest; I just could not believe what I was seeing, the World Trade Center crumbling down, one and then the other. I needed confirmation. I tried to call my brother Juan in NYC on the land-line (I didn't have a cell phone) and I couldn't get through. I stood mesmerized in front of the TV as it continued to replay the tragic events of that day when the phone rings, it was my brother Juan. He too could not get through until now and before he could say anything the first words out of my mouth were: "Are the twin towers down?" as he began to tell me: "Did the news reach over there?!" I asked him again: "ARE THE TWIN TOWERS DOWN?!" and he replied: "Yeah they're down!" I stood silent.

I remember...While still on the land-line I asked my brother: "What's going on right now?!" And he said: "It's not good at all here...the mass transit system is shut down; no buses no subway...all the bridges and tunnels are closed, traffic jams everywhere...The airports are shut down and there are cops everywhere. The Con Edison plant was cordoned off (just behind where my brother resides is the East 14th Street Con Edison power plant in lower Manhatten) and the National Guard was activated..." I could not come to terms with what he was telling me but I came to one conclusion; martial law in NYC...and so there it was, my confirmation...I was devastated. I went back to my bed room, closed the door and collapsed to my knees praying and crying.

I remember...After a long hard day working the horses, I took a cool shower, sat on my sofa and turned on the TV. While going through the channels I happened on a program called "Six Months after the Terror" and I locked on it. I saw a lady narrator interviewing a police officer from the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, but what struck me was the Emergency Service Unit truck that he drove up on because written on the door of the truck was "In Memory Of" and there were three names; the second one down read: "P.O. Jerome Domingues", my heart started pounding because I knew that it was him. So I called a friend of mine, a detective in the homicide squad in Queens NY and I asked her: "I'm going to give you a cop's name and I'll call you right back." But she didn't have to return the call; the instant I said his name she replied: "Oh! He was one of them." I stood silent. She asked if I was ok, and I said: "Yeah, I'm ok...but I thought he was Highway Patrol?!" And she said: "Yeah, he was, but he was reassigned to the Emergency Service Unit". I simply said: "Thanks, I'll be in touch." I was crushed. I hung up the phone and shut off the TV. I went to my bed room, closed the door and collapsed to my knees praying and crying.

I remember...Soon after learning of his death, I visited NYC. I landed at Newark Airport early morning. My sister, Margarita, her husband and children came to pick me up. We were heading back to the city and from the highway on the New Jersy side I saw lower Manhattan very clearly; I was looking for the World Trade Center but it was not there. It was gone! My sister from behind grabbed my shoulder and said to me, so gently and lovingly: "It's ok Luis." when she saw the tears rolling down my face. "Take me straight there there's something I just do!" I said. I had written a letter for Jerome and I wanted to deliver it.

I remember...Arriving in the city I wanted to stop at a bodega to get a Budweiser and a diet Pepsi, my brother-in-law went into the store and got it for me. He had to leave the van parked there since there was no parking near ground zero and so we all hopped in a cab. As we were nearing ground zero I looked in the bag and there was a Budweiser but the Pepsi was not diet. I caught a raving fit and I wanted to head back to the bodega to get a DIET Pepsi, but instead my sister jumped out of the cab to a hit dog vendor nearby. She went right in front of the line of people waiting and demanded a diet Pepsi; she slapped a five dollar bill on the counter and told the vendor to keep the change. Later I apologized even to the cab driver for my outburst and I thanked my sister for being so patient and compassionate with me.

I remember...Still driving around in the cab sitting in the front seat I was looking for a spot to deliver my letter to Jerome. But then when the cab driver stopped to make a turn I saw him! I opened the windown pointing at him saying: "Look, there he is!!!" It was Jerome. He was staring right at me as if calling out for me. It was as if though God had answered my prayer without me saying one. I jumped out of the cab with his soda and my beer and ran to him...and there he was! It was a portrait of Police Office Jerome Dominguez suspended on a cyclone fence somewhere near ground zero. I was so emotional in seeing him that I greeted him with the sign of the cross and then I reached out with my right hand and touched him. I opened his soda first then my beer. The letter was neatly folded in my hand with his diet Pepsi as I poured it on the ground, and then I drank down my Budweiser without stopping until the can was empty. My sister was taking photos and I told her I wanted to be alone with him. So they all took a walk. Jerome and I talked a bit. People passing by looking at me, one person even gave me a thumbs up! I rolled up the letter and shoved it into the soda can and placed it on the ground gently crushing it with my foot, and then I wedged it between the sidewalk and the cyclone fence right beneath his portrait. I looked at him again. I felt a load off my shoulders and I was so tearful and thankful. It may sound odd but I was in tears because I was happy to meet with him and once again share a drink together. Later, my sister and her husband took me to where the World Trade Center once stood. It had become a tourist attraction, there were many foreign tourists there speaking languages I could recognize and many that I could not. In any case, I was there to pay homage, and as I looked down and around in that big hole from behind the fence, I thought to myself: "Where can he be?" I knew that Jerome was in there somewhere.

I remember...Back at the horse ranch in Puerto Rico, I was thinking about Jerome...I have four very beautiful geldings and one is named "Brisas de Espana". He is the finest and the most handsome of my four boys. I nicknamed him "Jeronimo" (Spanish for "Jerome" in honor and remembrance of Police Officer Jerome Dominguez. His spirit lives in him now. I wish there was more I could do.

I remember...While sitting in the front balcony of my home having coffee, I was reading an American Legion magazine about a 29-year-old US Army Ranger, Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Domeij, and the sacrifice he made fighting the very enemies responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. Well, just last year he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. This was the price he paid for our freedom; may his soul rest in peace. I cut out his photo from the magazine and placed it on my desk and prayed for him and the family he left behind. I wish there was more I could do.

"The inescapable price of liberty (freedom) is an ability to preserve it from destruction". General Douglas MacArthur

Epilogue: Freedom is not free. The obscenity of the injuries sustained by Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Domeij and P.O. Jerome Dominguez which caused their death is a barbarity of war. And these are the sacrifices that are made to keep that freedom alive. Sadly there is just too many who take those freedoms for granted and so few of us who give a damn. Ever since 9/11, I had made a vow to wear my NYPD uniform from 8am to 4pm every September 11th for as long as I live in honor and remembrance for ALL who perished in that attack. I wish there was more I could do.

"Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin (1706-1790) Historical Review of Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania

("For those who fough for it, Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.") I, (state your name) Do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the uniform code of military justice. So help me God." I took this oath twice. The first time was when I enlisted in the Marine Corps back in '73. I took it again when I enlisted in the NY Army National Guard (1st VN 69th IF 42nd DIV) and I took an oath very similar at the NYC Police Academy when I became a cop. And that's just what it boils down to, the Constitution of the United States. Why? Because our freedom lies within those documents, and it is disgraceful how the unscrupulous minds of those in authority, who tend to twist and pervert the US Constitution for their own selfish agendas to undermine the foundation of our liberties.

"The world suffers a lot...not because of the violence of bad people...but because of the silence of good people." Napoleon Bonaparte

Because it is only a few of us who really understand that eternal vigilance, service and personal sacrifice is still the price of freedom, and that without the vigorous pursuit of our individual responsibility as citizens, even Americans will not forever remain a free people. Again, it is only a few of us who comprehend that FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. And what are the legislative and executive branches doing to secure our freedoms??? In my observation I see that our precious and ageless constitution is at hand here.

As for Police Officer Jerome Dominguez, his funeral was closed coffin because the coffin was empty. He was pulverized by the tonnage of debris that fell upon him and burned into ashes by the inferno caused by the terroist attack while rescuing the people, many of whom suffered the same fate. He was never found, not a trace; a sacrifice of unacceptable bereavement for anyone to bear. This was the price he paid for our freedom; may his soul rest in peace at that hallowed place now called Ground Zero.

(...and) a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:8

To learn more about Jerome Dominguez, please go to:
http://vimeo.com/29091653
http://www.newsday.com/911-anniversary/remembering-jerome-dominguez-1.3582717

About the author:

Luis A Pagan Bonaparte resides in Puerto Rico. He served in the Marine Corps beginning in 1973, the New York Army National Guard in the 1st BN 69th INF 42nd DIV, and as a cop with the New York City Police Academy. Mr. Bonaparte has been a member of The American Legion for 27 years.

 

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