March 17, 2003 -- This morning, the men of the Fire Department's Emerald Society Pipe and Drums will step off proudly in kilts and busbies on a St. Patrick's Day Parade that signifies the beginning of an emotional rebuilding for the band after 18 months of heartbreak.

Since 9/11, the pipers and drummers have performed at 400 funerals and memorials for their brother firefighters lost in the World Trade Center. And they've performed despite the loss of two of their own members and the loss of close family friends and colleagues.

"We are all changed from this," said Jim McEnaney, a 62-year-old retired fire lieutenant and the chairman of the band. "At all the funerals, we played up front and could see the faces of the families. It was very hard."

Last Monday at the battered Elks Club on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, the pipe and drums had their final rehearsal for today's parade. The enthusiasm was contagious as active and retired firemen milled around before practice.

Forty pipers and about 10 drummers, ranging in age from 20 to late 60s, rehearsed in tight formation in the auditorium. The pipes, with small American flags hanging on them, blared out Irish revolutionary tunes like "Twenty Men from Dublin" as well as the emotionally charged "America the Beautiful."

Today, when they march on Fifth Avenue, the men will be mindful of their lost chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge and firefighter Durrell "Bronko" Pearsall, a 36-year-old drummer, both of whom died at the WTC.


Lt. Ed Geraghty of the Emerald Society Pipe and Drums rehearses for the big day.
- Helayne Seidman