As America remembers the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon, many of my generation are flashing back to where we were when we heard the news. Sort of like we recall where we were when the planes struck the towers on 9-11-01, and our parents had vivid memories of where they were when Pearl Harbor was hit 69 years ago yesterday.
At the time the shots were being fired at the Dakota, my plane was landing in LaGuardia. At the time, among other things, I was Feature Editor of “The Finest,” the magazine of the Police Benevolent Association, the primary union of NYPD uniformed street cops. When I got to my hotel, an urgent message was waiting for me. It was my PBA Board contact. He told me what had happened, and that a patrol car would soon be at my hotel to pick me up and take me to the scene.
Dawn found me at the Dakota, being escorted through the death scene. The blood had not yet dried on the lush carpeting of the foyer into which Lennon had fled, before he collapsed. The Vigil had already begun. I remember the sea of haunted and grieving faces, bundled against the bitter cold of the day. If I recall correctly, the photo I took for the cover showed the crowds and the cops in front of the Dakota. There was no pushing or shoving, only a sense of mutually shared grief.
I interviewed the first responding officer who captured the assassin at the point of a Colt Official Police .38. The officers retrieved the death weapon, a Charter Arms Undercover .38. They were professional enough to veil their contempt of the killer in his presence. I debriefed the last cop to hear John Lennon speak as they rushed him to the hospital hoping to save his life.
Say what you will about his politics, the cops saw John Lennon as a good man at heart. At a time when the city was too cheap to buy body armor for its police, the union had started a “vest fund,” and John Lennon had made a five-figure contribution. The cops knew it and appreciated it. In the days and weeks that followed, until it was certain that the killer had acted alone, Yoko Ono and Sean had free bodyguard service from a rotating crew of volunteer off-duty police.
Those are my memories of that sad moment. What are yours?