It’s usually awesome when life imitates art – especially when that art form is an action movie. The good guys usually overcome big odds and the bad guys usually get put away. But cop life doesn’t work out like that sometimes. In the movies, when a cop is just days away from retirement, the audience knows he may not make it. But real life isn’t supposed to be like that.
Unfortunately for NYPD officer John William Perry, the morning he turned in his retirement papers was Sept. 11, 2001. And he wasn’t about to miss his calling that day.
John Perry was not your average New York cop. A graduate of NYU Law School, he had an immigration law practice before he ever went to the police academy. He was a linguist who spoke Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese, among others. Not bad for anyone, let alone a kid who grew up in Brooklyn with a learning disability. He even joined the New York State Guard and worked as a social worker for troubled kids.
He was a jack of all trades, beloved by all. He even took a few roles as an extra in NY-based television and film.
He was appointed to the NYPD in 1993 and was assigned to the 40th Precinct, in the Bronx borough of New York. The morning of September 11, he was off-duty, filing his retirement papers at 1 Police Plaza. In his next career, he wanted to be a medical malpractice lawyer. That’s when someone told him about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Instead of leaving his badge, he picked it back up.
He dashed the few blocks to the scene and immediately began assisting other first responders with the rescue operation. Perry was last seen helping a woman out of the South Tower when it fell just before 10 a.m. that day.
“Apparently John was too slow carrying this woman,” said Arnold Wachtel, Perry’s close friend. “But knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.”
Some 72 law enforcement officers and 343 FDNY firemen were killed in the 9/11 attacks that morning. John William Perry was the only off-duty NYPD officer who died in the attack. An estimated 25,000 people were saved by those who rushed to their aid, leaving only 2,800 civilians to die at the World Trade Center site. President George W. Bush awarded those killed in the attack the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor. Perry was also posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department’s Medal of Honor.