Ft. Apache Cops Recall Good Times During the Bad Old Days

Ft. Apache Cops Recall Good Times During the Bad Old Days
by David Greene

More than 100 former cops once stationed at the famed “Fort Apache” station-house on Simpson Street during the 1970’s, held their annual gathering as they reminisced with cocktail in hand and once again mourned the fallen and shared war stories and discussed the current affairs of the New York City Police Department.

At the annual Fort Apache reunion are (l-r): Pete Tessetore, Ralph Friedman, Robert DiMartini, Tom Walker and Ralph Squillante.--Photo by David Greene

At the annual Fort Apache reunion are (l-r): Pete Tessetore, Ralph Friedman, Robert DiMartini, Tom Walker and Ralph Squillante.–Photo by David Greene

This year the men and women of the 41st Precinct gathered at the Redwood Club on Schurz Avenue in Throgs Neck on Friday, June 9. Members who once patrolled the streets of Hunts Point and Longwood in the 1970’s, where the murder rate more often than not was the highest in the city, and who’s members were forever immortalized in the Paul Newman film, “Fort Apache: The Bronx.”

Back in those days when Captain Tom Walker was the commander of the 41st Precinct, when the command averaged more than one hundred homicides a year, in a day before crime statistics were even tabulated. Walker’s story Fort Apache, The Bronx, told tales of his days as commander and his men holding the line during civil unrest and were portrayed on the big screen by Newman, Ed Asner and Ken Wahl in the 1981 film.

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker first signed "Fort Apache" copy in 1976 and singed it again one day shy of the 41st anniversary of the books release.

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker first signed “Fort Apache” copy in 1976 and singed it again one day shy of the 41st anniversary of the books release.

Walker, 81, despite his success Walker never left the Bronx, currently residing in Co-Op City, he looks back on that era, stating, “We always had a difficult problem with out image, no doubt about that. But generally speaking, I think the general public really supported us, even today.”

Walker was still a young man when he wrote the acclaimed novel in 1971, he says, “I think its important for everybody to realize that we all have to work together, I’m sounding like a politician, but the point is that things are not as bad as sometimes the news likes to portray them.”

At the annual Fort Apache reunion are (l-4): Robert DeMartino, Ralph Squillante and Tom Walker.--Photo by David Greene

At the annual Fort Apache reunion are (l-4): Robert DeMartino, Ralph Squillante and Tom Walker.–Photo by David Greene

On the topic of news coverage, Walker explains, “I think there was a better relationship between us and the newspaper reporters. They saw what was going on as far as crime was concerned and I think there was a comradery with reporters. I think they felt they were going out into the tough street’s, doing their job reporting, which was similar to what we were doing in the sense of fighting for law and order on those same street’s.”

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker turned his memoirs into a best selling novel and film, "Fort Apache, The Bronx" which stared actor Paul Newman.--Photo by David Greene

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker turned his memoirs into a best selling novel and film, “Fort Apache, The Bronx” which stared actor Paul Newman.–Photo by David Greene

Moments before an award ceremony where Walker and Jerry Monihan revived an award from their fellow officers, Walker was asked to sign a copy of Fort Apache, that he originally had signed when the book came out. On this day Walker was again asked to sign it, the day before the 41st anniversary of the day he first signed the book. Today Walker has a new book out titled “Cop Shows” that was co-written with author Vincent Patrick,that focuses on a group of black cops in Harlem.

When accepting his award, Monihan, who retired as the NYPD Chief of Patrol, told his fellow officers, “We were apart of the second generation to come into the “41” after the 70’s. I got there in “82” and the whole crew, we were able to come in and learn from the best cops in the world.”

Retired NYPD Chief of Patrol Jerry Monihan thanked the former "Fort Apache" cops who trained him in the South Bronx.--Photo by David Greene

Retired NYPD Chief of Patrol Jerry Monihan thanked the former “Fort Apache” cops who trained him in the South Bronx.–Photo by David Greene

Retired police officer Ralph “Squiggy” Squillante said of the gathering, “It’s amazing, I haven’t seen some of these guys in 20 or 30 years. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to see these guys are still here.”

“The sad thing is some of them don’t show up,” explained Pete Tessitore, a retired officer and consultant to the film, adding, “Its a great thing, a lot of war stories, some probably unprintable.” Tessitore recalled, “I did undercover for 9 years. It was the best, I was like a chameleon. I use to wear all green or all blue clothes and I’ve even been mistaken as a black guy. I must say I was good.”

While working on Fort Apache, Tessitore, who also never left the Bronx, resides in Riverdale, he fondly recalled, “Newman use to call me Mario Tessitore because he couldn’t believe the things I could do with a big Cadillac. He’d say, ‘Pete, that was impossible.’ I said Paul, you drive in circles, you go left, another left and I told him I’m chasing people who don’t want to go to jail.”

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker, 81, accepts an award from fellow "Fort Apache" cops.--Photo by David Greene

Retired NYPD Captain Tom Walker, 81, accepts an award from fellow “Fort Apache” cops.–Photo by David Greene

Lieutenant Robert DeMartino, 73, to this day is still the most decorated officer of the NYPD, explained the harsh reality, explaining, “None of us are kids and each year we lose more guys, but we keep coming back because it reminds us of the good times, the fun being a cop and what it meant to us and all the guys in this place right now are heroes.”

Retired NYPD Chief of Patrol Jerry Monihan thanked the former "Fort Apache" cops who trained him in the South Bronx.--Photo by David Greene

Retired NYPD Chief of Patrol Jerry Monihan thanked the former “Fort Apache” cops who trained him in the South Bronx.–Photo by David Greene

Having ran teams in the 43rd Precinct, the Bronx Robbery Squad and the Citywide Street Crimes Unit, DeMartino’s efforts were responsible for an estimated 10,000 arrests and getting 6,000 guns off the street. DeMartino adds, “I was involved in a couple of big cases, but the most important thing to me was taking guns away from the bad guys, so they couldn’t kill innocent citizens.” Many feel his arrest record can never be broken because of how the job has changed over the years.

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