September 29, 2003
BYLINE: BY MICHELE MCPHEE
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF
Slain sgt.’s sons serve with honor
He still remembers the cacophony of police sirens, growing louder as the squad cars approached his house.
A chaotic blur of blue uniforms rushed past Joseph McCormack Jr., then 13, who then heard his mother’s piercing screams.
His father, Joseph McCormack, a decorated sergeant in the elite Emergency Service Unit, was dead – shot through the heart by a shotgun-wielding deranged man in the Bronx.
“I remember knowing right away, with all the police cars, that something was wrong but they didn’t want to tell me,” said McCormack, now 33. “It was devastating. It was the worst day of my life.”
Just before his untimely death, his father had cautioned his sons, Joseph and 10-year-old Andrew, away from police work. And he had always teased his 5-year-old daughter, Jessica, that she would become a nurse.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of his death, it appears only one of his wishes came true.
Both of the McCormack boys are on the job. Joseph Jr. followed his dad into the Emergency Service Unit, working in Truck 4 in the Bronx. Andrew is a cop in the 52nd Precinct in the Bronx.
Jessica McCormack is a pediatric nurse.
“It’s a mixed blessing for me, with the boys on the job, and I’m sure it would have been for him,”
McCormack’s widow, Susan, said last week.
“I think they were called to do it, partly because of family tradition and how they felt about their father. I’m
sure they felt like they wanted to light the torch and carry it on.”
In the years after her husband was slain, Susan McCormack became increasingly frustrated at the lack of benefits given to the families of fallen cops.
In 1998, she and two other police widows launched a support group called Survivors of the Shield – or SOS, the universal cry for help.
The group successfully pushed for legislation to enhance the benefits for children of slain cops, and continues to offer services to heartbroken families.
“For me, the reason my husband died had to be helping other families who went through what I went through,” Susan McCormack said.
A guiding force
On Sept. 11, 2001, she nearly had another personal tragedy.
In the minutes after the World Trade Center attack, Joseph McCormack Jr. – the spitting image of his father –
responded with his team, led by Sgt. John Coughlin.
Coughlin and his men – McCormack, Brian McDonnell, Stephen Driscoll, Thomas Langone and Paul Talty – were ordered to assemble a search and rescue team to scour the burning south tower for victims.
As they were about to enter the smoldering building, Coughlin turned to McCormack. “I need you to go back to the truck. We need a rope harness,” Coughlin told him.
By the time McCormack ran two blocks through the raining debris and returned, his ESU brethren had hustled into the building. Seconds later, the tower disintegrated, killing Coughlin and his men.
“John [Coughlin], I credit with saving my life on Sept. 11. They went in without me never to come out again. It’s almost like someone was watching over me, someone with bigger hands than I have,” McCormack said.
But Susan McCormack would like to think her husband’s hands were the ones her son referred to, the ones that guided him away from death nearly 18 years to the day after his father died.
“I want to believe my husband is looking down on us,” she said. “When he lived, it was a message to me, a message from Joe.”