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©1999 - 2013
Edward D. Reuss
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NIGHTMARE ON BROADWAY

The Medal of Honor NYPD :

1958 Design

Present  Design

When a member of the NYPD is recommended for departmental recognition, the highest recognition is called Honorable Mention. This recognition is awarded for an act of extraordinary bravery intelligently performed in the line of duty at imminent and personal danger to life.

Annually, the Honor Committee of the NYPD reviews all such awards for the previous year and selects from those awards members to receive the highest medal of the NYPD - the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is given to those members for an act of gallantry and valor at imminent personal hazard to life with knowledge of the risk, ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY.

The design of the medal has changed over the years.  The digital photograph depicted above is of the actual medal awarded in this incident that occurred over four decades ago.

Patrolman James L. "Larry" Roden, Emergency Service Truck One, NYPD changed into his civilian clothes in the old 18th Precinct stationhouse at 306 West 54th Street.  Today, the same building houses the Midtown North Precinct.  It was October 19, 1958, and Truck One still turned out of the West 54th Street stationhouse. Roden remembered that the other trucks in the Emergency Service referred to Truck One as the "Hollywood Truck". The good natured ribbing alluded to the fact that Truck One was always in the news. Police work in Midtown Manhattan provided lots of newsworthy stories for the press. Larry hung up his gunbelt on the hook in the locker and reached for his off-duty revolver. He carried a .38 caliber Colt Detective Special.  The snub-nosed weapon had six shots in the cylinder. He snapped the holster onto his belt and slammed the metal door of the locker shut.  One last spin of the combination lock and he turned towards the stairway.

 

 

The "Pic-a-Rib Bar"on Broadway between West 52nd Street and West 53rd Street wasn't far from the 18th Precinct. It was one of those warm nights in what New Yorkers call "Indian Summer".  The patrons inside the bar chatted and joked with each other in the convivial atmosphere of the local tavern. The bartender glanced at the big guy who came into the tavern and walked to the men's room. A moment later, the bartender looked past the patrons and watched as the tall young man dressed in a salt and pepper coat returned. He had a strange look on his face and stood in silence between the partition that separated the bar from the dining area. A few of the patrons noticed and followed the gaze of the bartender.  A waiter stood nearby and cautiously kept his eye on the man. 

The bartender didn't have a chance to shout a warning. The tall silent man pulled two revolvers from his belt. The first victim was killed as he sat on a barstool closest to the shooter. He was shot pointblank in the head and his body jerked back violently onto the floor.  It was later found that the first victim had recently served time as a loan shark.  He also had a record of gambling and bookmaking convictions. 

The second victim was shot in the head and killed instantly. He was from Jersey City.  A third victim who turned out to be an usher at the old Madison Square Garden, was shot and fell kicking and screaming to the barroom floor.  There was a young couple sitting together at the bar. They watched in terror as the crazed gunman swung the revolvers past them and shot the fourth patron.  The last victim was later identified as "Larry, the Barber". He had a police record that went back to 1933 and included bookmaking charges.

Another patron who was the manager of the Anta Theatre on West 52nd Street quickly dove into a broom closet during the shootings. He closed the door and huddled in silence while the shootings went on.  He suffered a fatal heart attack and died alone in that small dark closet.  Police discovered his body later.

The killer then turned to the waiter and asked: "Anybody Else?"

With that, he turned and ran from the bar in such haste that he plunged through the glass door onto the sidewalk.  He fled up Broadway towards Seventh Avenue. The two revolvers were in both of his hands as he ran into the streets of Manhattan.

Less than a block south of the shootings, Patrolman Charles Prestia, 18th Precinct, sat patiently in the patrol sergeant's car.  He was assigned as the sergeant's driver for the late tour.  Prestia was on the job three years at this time. He had taken the police test after he got out of the Army.  He was a Sergeant in the 27th "Wolfhound" Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, United States Army during the Korean War. He was in the landings at Inchon and had pursued the defeated North Korean Army all the way up to the Yalu River that separates North Korea from Manchuria. He wore leather boots and a field jacket in the bitter cold of the Korean winter. When over 300,000 Chinese "volunteers" poured over the Yalu River, his unit retreated before the onslaught of "human sea" attacks.  Prestia survived Korea and returned to civilian life. Like thousands of other veterans, Prestia joined the NYPD. . He was no stranger to firefights.

The patrol sergeant was making a visit to one of the large public dancehalls on Broadway, between West 52nd and West 53rd Streets. The sergeant had just gone upstairs into the hall and Prestia was reading a wrinkled copy of the NY Daily Mirror. The interior light of the radio car flickered to the idling of the patrol car. There wasn't much traffic on the police radio and it looked like it was going to be a quiet night.  He was very much mistaken. 

A yellow cab pulled up next to the radio car and the taxi-driver shouted across to Prestia. He didn't hear him clearly at first over the static on the police radio. "There's been a shooting back there", he yelled.  The cop noticed that his eyes were widened with terror.
The excited cabby waved and pointed back towards the "Pic-a-Rib" Bar and Grill.  Then, the frightened taxi driver took off downtown.  Prestia turned and saw a group of people on the sidewalk in front of the bar.  He backed up the radio car and jumped out leaving the car door open. The group gestured towards the entrance to the tavern as the cop drew his service revolver and glanced into the interior.  The glass shards of the broken glass covered the sidewalk. His body tensed as he saw the carnage inside the tavern. The bodies of four men lay on the barroom floor with blood pooling under their heads. He could see that all four were dead.  The bartender excitedly pointed out the man running up Broadway crossing towards Seventh Avenue.

Cops didn't have portable radios back then and he couldn't get back to the radio car to call Central without losing sight of the gunman.  He knew he had to follow the killer.  He told the witnesses to call the police as he ran off after the gunman.  It was a good decision. He had to act immediately. His instincts served him well on this night.  

Prestia hugged the building line as he closed the distance between himself and the shooter. The brass buttons of his winter blouse and the white shield on his chest gleamed in the streetlights. Some of the patrons followed the cop a short distance behind.  They wanted to help the officer, but their presence was an added problem for him.   He saw the two guns in the hands of the gunman but he couldn't fire yet because of the patrons who would be endangered in an exchange of fire. He knew he had to get closer. He watched as the killer ran towards Seventh Avenue, but then turned west back towards Broadway. When the suspect turned the corner at West 55th Street and headed west, Prestia moved up to the corner and could see that he had a shot at him. By now, the gunman knew he was being pursued and turned shouting at the cop to stop following him.

He shouted for the gunman to surrender, but the suspect turned with both guns blazing. Prestia crouched and fired rapidly as the sidestreet lit up with muzzle-flashes.  The cop emptied his weapon in the exchange. It only took a second or two.  The sharp noise of the gunfire bounced off the walls of the buildings and echoed in the surrounding Manhattan streets. Prestia dove into a doorway for cover and began to desperately reload his weapon.  His fingers shook as the adrenaline rushed into his body.  The effort to reload the revolver under such extreme stress took every ounce of control. Cops didn't have speedloaders back in 1958.  He shook the loose rounds from the leather pouch on his gunbelt.  His eyes danced from the maddeningly slow reloading process to the killer who had decided to continue to flee on West 55t Street towards Eighth Avenue.

Shortly before the shooting, Patrolman Roden had been discussing a deer-hunting trip with some of the other cops in the unit.  When he left the stationhouse, he walked over to Chummy's Bar and Grill on West 55th Street and met Patrolmen Mike Chadwick and John Plohetski and they briefly discussed the details of the hunt.   Chadwick and Plohetski were partners in Truck One. As the men left the bar, Chadwick started to walk to catch his bus at Columbus Circle and Roden and Plohetski walked together east on West 55th Street.  That decision was about to lead the men into a nightmarish gun-battle. 

 As they began to walk along West 55th Street, they saw the Officer Prestia in pursuit. Prestia was using the building line as cover and Roden and Plohetski could see he had his revolver drawn. Their eyes turned to the killer and they saw the guns in both hands. 

Roden and Plohetski used some of the parked cars for cover and joined Prestia. Roden held his shield high as he closed the distance between him and the gunman. The killer was about thirty feet from Eighth Avenue when Roden stepped out and ordered him to stop.

"Stop!, I'm a cop!" shouted Roden.

"Get away from me. You don't know what you are doing!" said the killer.

"Drop those fuckin' guns!" said Roden as he dropped into a combat crouch. 

The two guns of the killer flashed and a slug ripped into Officer Roden's right shoulder.  Other rounds tore into a car window behind Roden as the gunman fired both of his weapons at the cop.  Roden told the writer that it felt like he was hit with a baseball bat. The slug tore through his shoulder and passed through. Roden fired five rounds at the suspect and believed that each of those shots had found their mark.  He could see the suspect shudder as the impact of the slugs hit him. By now, Officer Prestia had reloaded his service revolver and he fired all six shots at the killer.  Plohetski joined in the battle and fired three rounds with his off-duty revolver.  In the darkness, the sights of the handguns were useless. The tongues of flaming fire belched out of the muzzles of the revolvers and reflected off the plate glass windows. Plohetski knew he had two more shots left in his Smith &Wesson Chief.  He took cover with Roden behind a parked car. 

The cops knew that they had hurt the suspect.  Yet, he still clung to those two handguns as he staggered towards Eighth Avenue.  He appeared to be stunned.  But he then turned again and started firing at the cops. Roden had taken cover with Plohetski behind a parked car. He used the hood for support as he fired the last round from his revolver. He cocked the hammer and carefully fired single-action.  That last round he was sure had found its mark.  Roden now stood wounded with an empty revolver. Ploheski fired once again, yet held his last remaining round.  The gunman continued to stagger towards Eighth Avenue with the two revolvers in his hands.

Patrolman Chadwick had heard the shots being fired and ran back to the scene as the last exchange of gunfire.  As he turned the corner of Eighth Avenue and West 55th Street, Chadwick came into view.

'Watch him, Mike, he has two guns. He just shot me!"  Roden shouted.

Chadwick fired six quick shots with his off-duty revolver and went to Roden's side.  Now, except for Plohetski, all of the cops had empty weapons. Although he was wounded in the shoulder, Patrolman Roden confronted the killer with an empty gun and challenged him.

"Drop those fucking guns!" he commanded, as he looked down the barrel of his revolver.
,
"Let's take him, Mike!" Roden cried as he charged at the wounded but dangerous gunman. 

All four cops rushed at the killer and hit him with body blocks and grabbed his arms. The cops yanked the guns from his grasp as Roden hit him with blows to the head. Prestia was stunned when he looked at the face of the gunman.  He immediately recognized him as a fellow police officer. The killer was a cop.  He still wore a dark blue uniformed shirt with the 18th Precinct numerals on the collars. Roden didn't know the guy, but Prestia knew him from the 18th Precinct. He had even worked in a radio car with him on occasion. 

The cops could see that the man was seriously wounded. Chadwick applied direct pressure on the chest wounds to stem the flow of blood. Roden and Plohetski were shocked by the revelation. Had they shot a cop by accident? What the hell happened?  In the chaos and confusion at the scene,  they didnít as yet know about the four homicides in the bar and grill. Officer Prestia was taken immediately into the 18th Precinct and didnít have the opportunity to talk with the other cops involved in the shooting.  It wasnít until later at Roosevelt Hospital that they learned about the slayings.  The four bodies were brought into the same hospital. 
 

The berserk officer was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital a few blocks away.  He died at the hospital and never regained consciousness. Three of the slugs that were removed from his body came from the revolver of Patrolman Roden. The reasons for rampage remain unanswered to this day. It was learned that the crazed cop had sustained a head injury in a vehicle accident and had been suffering from severe headaches.

This incident caused much pain to the cops involved. Patrolman Prestia felt so saddened by the turn of events, that he felt reluctant to seek any department recognition for his heroic actions.  That decision was not his to make.  The sadness still remains with him many years later. John Plohetski says that this incident still causes him much personal sadness, and that he often prays for the man who died in that firefight so long ago.  These were the days when there was no post- traumatic stress counseling for cops.  Just as there were no safety vests for the physical protection of cops, there were no emotional support for officers who experienced such trauma. 

On Medal Day, June 2, 1959, at a ceremony in City Hall, Patrolman Prestia was awarded the St George Association Association Medal for Valor. Patrolman Plohetski was presented with the Michael J. Delehanty Medal for Valor. Patrolman Chadwick was awarded a Commendation. Patrolman James "Larry" Roden was awarded the highest award that the NYPD can bestow on a member - the Medal of Honor. Although wounded in the exchange of gunfire with a suspect carrying two weapons, Roden continued to engage the suspect in close personal combat.  Knowing that he had expended all of his ammunition, he again confronted an armed and dangerous adversary. Without regard for his personal safety, he charged an armed suspect and disarmed him. 
Patrolman Roden went on to have an illustrious career with the NYPD. He retired in the rank of Captain of Police and now resides on Long Island with his family. 

Patrolman Charles Prestia retired a number of years ago and is the President of a large management company in Manhattan. He too resides with his family on Long Island. 

Patrolman John "Pons" Plohetski went on to have a career in the detective division of the NYPD.  He is retired and lives with his family on Staten Island.

Patrolman Michael Chadwick has passed away. Roden remarked that Mike Chadwick was one of the bravest men he had ever had the honor of working with. John Plohetski was Chadwickís partner for two years in Emergency Service. He and Larry Roden both felt that Officer Chadwick deserved the Medal for Valor for his actions.

 

 

 

 


Copyright © 2000 Edward D. Reuss

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