Music is always playing on the escalators that lift you out of the 9/11 Museum, but on Wednesday afternoons, that music comes to life.
“The bagpipes are a large part of what took place after 9/11. All three pipe bands — PAPD, NYPD and FDNY — played at every single funeral, memorial service and dedication pertaining to 9/11,” said Brian Ahern, a piper in the PAPD pipe band. “It was our job to provide a proper sendoff to those who passed away that day and provide the families with closure.”
Stationed at the George Washington Bridge, Ahern has been a police officer with the Port Authority Police Department since February 2001. He started playing the bagpipes when he was 12 years old, and he has played with the PAPD band for the last 17 years.
“I first started as a cop in ’99 with the NYPD, and then I transferred over to the Port Authority,” Ahern said. “When I was in the academy one of the instructors, Ricky Rodriguez, was in the pipe band and he found out that I played.”
Richard Rodriguez encouraged Ahern to join the PAPD pipe band, but they were never able to play together; Rodriguez was one of the 37 PAPD officers who died on 9/11.
“A couple days after 9/11, I ran into the pipe major. He knew that I played and said, ‘I need you at a funeral tomorrow,’ and that was my first day in the band,” Ahern said. “It was trial by fire; You do what you have to do to send these guys off.”
The tradition of playing bagpipes in Foundation Hall began in May 2014 as part of a ceremony held in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum to honor the 12th anniversary of the formal end of the rescue and recovery efforts.
“It’s been quite a few years now. It’s a great thing that every Wednesday for all three bands — the PAPD, NYPD and FDNY — to perform in front of the people who are visiting and paying respects,” said Ahern. “I really think that people do appreciate being able to hear and see the bagpipes and see the three uniforms [of the emergency services] that were directly affected. It ties a lot of it together and symbolizes those who sacrificed their lives that day.”
Though they play weekly, the importance and impact of this tradition is never lost.
“There hasn’t been a Wednesday that goes by where people don’t come up to us after we play to say, ‘We appreciate it,’ ‘That was touching,’ ‘Thank you,’” said Ahern.
Visitors interested in experiencing the weekly bagpipe tribute can watch the bagpipers play every Wednesday in Foundation Hall, near the 58-ton steel beam known as the Last Column, from 1 to 1:10 p.m., and on the 9/11 Memorial Glade from 1:15 to 1:30 p.m.
“I think [visitors] hearing the bagpipes playing or standing there and watching us playing at the final column, it means something,” said Ahern. “It ties it all together.”
By Julia Carmel, Communications Team, 9/11 Memorial & Museum