Age and gravity keep taking their toll these days on once proud chests, and their numbers have slowly diminished.
But the Band of Brothers (and Sisters) in Blue who once worked a patch of Hell called Fort Apache will gather together once again, as they have done every four or so years, to give each other bearhugs, half-hearted insults and share tales of “the time that….” as former members of the 41st Precinct during “the Bronx is Burning” years of the 70’s and 80’s.
While other surrounding precincts in the south Bronx went through the same turbulence and sheer violence, Fort Apache stood out, largely thanks to a book of the same name by former precinct Capt. Tom Walker and of course, the movie with Paul Newman.
All those nicknames
Real cops, with nicknames like Nutsy Ryan, the Fuhrer, Bucky, Pinhead, Scruffy the Red, The Riddler, Big Bird, The Head, The Whale, The Pope, Cisco, Young Buck and Mad Dog patrolled the streets, alleys and dark stairways of Longwood-Hunts Point, the epicenter of the devastation that roiled the south Bronx and left its negative mark for decades.
The festivities, Friday, June 6 at the Redwood Club on Schurz Avenue in Throggs Neck, will come a day after NYPD brass gather at their old stationhouse on Simpson Street to dedicate a plaque marking its 100th anniversary.
The plaque unveiling ceremony at the stationhouse also featured a block party for local residents living in newer townhouses where only the stationhouse and one lone apartment building were left standing among the rubble of a block looking more like Berlin in 1945.
Little House on the Prarie
The stationhouse looked so desolate among the rubble that it went from being called Fort Apache – named by desk Lieutenant Lloyd Gittens on the phone while the stationhouse was literally under attack – to being called The Little House on the Prairie.
A new stationhouse was eventually opened on Leggett Ave & Buckner Blvd., and after major renovation, the old house became headquarters for Bronx Detective Command.
Retired Lt. Billy Rath, who rose from patrolman to sergeant to detective working there at the height of the urban Armageddon, has been organizing the reunions for several years now. He said he’s already received 173 RSVPs for this one – “the most ever.”
“Most of the guys are in their 70’s now,” he noted. “You look around the room at these reunions, and you remember how you looked when you walked out after the roll call. You were young, you were out there to help people, you felt you could handle anything.
“You look now and you see guys coming in on walkers, bald, older. They’re lucky they can catch a beach ball. But even though we’ve aged, the brotherhood hasn’t changed.”