NEW YORK—To the accompaniment of mournful bagpipes and muffled drums, New York's firefighters began to bury their dead Saturday, starting with their beloved chaplain.
Rev. Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest who was among the first firefighters killed Tuesday after two hijacked passenger jets rammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, was remembered by the mighty and the humble as a joyful man whose presence brought comfort and reassurance to firefighters in times of need.
Cardinal Edward Egan officiated at the tearful two-hour funeral mass, attended by former President Bill Clinton, his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), their daughter, Chelsea, and local politicians including former New York Mayor David Dinkins.
Also among the estimated 2,000 in attendance were hundreds of New York firefighters and parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church, part of the Franciscan community where Judge lived in midtown Manhattan.
The 68-year-old chaplain, known to firefighters as Father Mike, was killed by falling debris as he was administering the last rites to a stricken firefighter. The manner of death suited Judge, said a longtime friend who delivered the funeral homily.
"Look at how that man died," said Rev. Michael Duffy, also a Franciscan friar. "He was right where the action was, where he always wanted to be. He was praying. . . . And he was helping someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die? I think it was beautiful."
During the service, Judge's white chaplain's helmet rested on his coffin, which was draped in the Fire Department flag. As his coffin was borne from the church to a hearse, bagpipers played "Going Home," and a line of firefighters in dress blue uniforms and white gloves snapped to attention. Many of them struggled to control their emotions. Others wept.
The nearly 5,000 missing in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attack include up to 350 firefighters caught inside or near the 1,350-foot towers when they collapsed. The trade center catastrophe is the worst disaster in the history of the Fire Department.
In what is likely to become a common occurrence in coming months, two other members of the Fire Department were buried Saturday: the chief of the department, Peter Ganci, and the first deputy commissioner, William Feehan.
Mayor pays his respects
With three funerals on the same day, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did not attend the service for Father Mike. He paid his respects Friday evening at a wake.
"This is only the first group of funerals we're going to have to conduct for the men and women who were lost at the World Trade Center," Giuliani said after Ganci's funeral on Long Island. "This is a very difficult and emotional day for us."
Judge, who grew up in Brooklyn and as a teenager shined shoes in front of New York's famous Flatiron Building, spent his early years in the church as a parish priest at a variety of New Jersey churches.
But he spent the last 10 years of his life as the chief Fire Department chaplain. The firefighters at Hook and Ladder Co. 24, across the street from St. Francis of Assisi, recalled that Judge often came to the firehouse to share a meal with the company, which is missing six men as a result of Tuesday's attack.
"He was always there for us," said firefighter Joe Papillo, pressing his white-gloved hands to his face to dry his tears. "He lifted our spirits. Sometimes at night, we could see a light on in his window, and he'd look out and wave at us."
Also delivering eulogies were Hillary Clinton and Mark Green, New York City's public advocate and a mayoral candidate in the Democratic primary. In praising Judge, the speakers and other attendees said his life should serve as a rebuke to the terrorists who were responsible for ending it.
"We should lift his life up as what should prevail in the world," former President Clinton said during a visit to the firehouse after the funeral. "More of us have to be like Father Mike than like the people who killed him."
Officially, the number of bodies found amid the rubble totals only a fraction of the missing. With 4,972 missing in New York, 159 bodies have been recovered, city officials said Saturday.
Sunny, warmer weather followed the rain and chilly winds that hampered operations at ground zero Friday. Workers have carted away 22,000 tons of rubble, the equivalent of more than 1,800 truckloads.