But in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, a year to the day after mass murder was inflicted on their city, the pipers and drummers of the New York City Emerald Societies marched through the darkness and into the dawn.
They marched this time for their entire town, all who died in it on Sept. 11, 2001 and all who call it home on this, the first anniversary of the attack on New York and America.
The idea for marches to Ground Zero from distant starting points in the five boroughs was inspired by the relay running of torch bearers carrying the Olympic flame to its final destination. But if the Olympics are a showy triumph of the better side of the human spirit, the attack on the World Trade Center was the opposite.
And none were more aware of this than the pipers and drummers from the fire department, police, Port Authority, sanitation, corrections and court officers emeralds who walked in time through city neighborhoods slumbering through the early fall night.
Joe Murphy, bandmaster for the FDNY Emeralds, led the way from Inwood in upper Manhattan. For the footsore firefighters, the 16-mile walk to Ground Zero was sandwiched between a funeral on Tuesday and a funeral on Thursday. But Murphy said the band members were ready to mark the anniversary with all due honors.
“We will be marching for Bronko as well,” Murphy said before his band’s commemorative march.
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Durrell “Bronko” Pearsall, the standout 6-foot-2, 280-pound drummer for the FDNY Emeralds, and a member of Rescue Company 4, gave his life on Sept. 11 battling for his hometown.
“We miss him and will remember him every step of the way,” Murphy said.
The Police Department Emeralds marched into Manhattan from Brooklyn.
Bandmaster John Tansey said he was proud to be part of the commemoration march though saddened by the reason for it. Tansey said that he would be getting a new pair of shoes for the roughly 13-mile march through the borough, a walk that will take on a particular resonance when the band crosses the Brooklyn Bridge at about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“I blew out the side of my shoes recently,” Tansey said. As such, he is on common ground with just about every other Emerald piper and drummer.
Tansey added that one result of the prominence of the Emerald pipers and drummers over the past year was that bagpipes were now “part of America.”
The skirl of these American pipes signaled the dawn of Sept. 11, 2002 from every direction in the city that bore the brunt of terror one year ago.
In addition to the FDNY Emeralds marching through Manhattan and the police Emeralds from Brooklyn, the pipers and drummers from the Corrections Department and Court Officers Emerald bands marched to Ground Zero from the Bronx.
The procession from Queens was led by the Port Authority Police Department Emeralds, still mourning the loss on 9/11 of their bandmaster, Liam Callahan.
The Staten Island procession, featuring at one point pipers skirling on the famed ferry, was led by the Department of Sanitation Emeralds.