"As I walked behind the honour guard he was saluted. The priest said a prayer," Lim told a standing-room-only crowd at the Aboriginal and Diversity Law Enforcement Conference. "When we held the memorial, people were walking past the urn and saluting."
Officers, their eyes already rubbed red after Lim showed a 15-minute video of the destruction of the twin towers filled with macabre images of bodies tumbling, planes striking and fires burning, wept again as the Port Authority dog handler described the loss of Sirius, his canine partner.
There is a rawness to Sept. 11 that will never heal, especially for the men and women whose colleagues gave their lives in an attempt to rescue others.
"That is our call to duty. That is what we are paid to do. Our real job is helping people. I don't have a lot of medals for shooting people. I do have medals for helping people," Lim said in his broad New York accent.
One on one, Lim's an easy-going man. He smiles easily, brags about his kids and pulls a sheaf of photos out from under worn plastic windows that show Debra and Michael from babyhood to adolescence. He pauses on a picture of his son with Lena, a previous canine partner (now the family pet) and Sirius, the dog he lost in the World Trade Center.
After leaving Sirius in their sub-basement office, Lim rushed into danger. Eventually, after herding people out of the towers, he was trapped in the rubble of a stairwell in Tower 2 with a civilian and some firefighters. Tower 1 had collapsed and Tower 2 had been pancaked into dust.
Lim called his wife on his cell phone to tell her he was alive and to say goodbye if he didn't make it out. His phone was passed from person to person as each reached their families to express their love. They eventually climbed to the sixth floor, which had become the top floor of what had been a 110-storey skyscraper, and awaited rescue.
Ultimately, Lim was one of only 18 people found alive in the rubble of the collapsed buildings. The bodies of the four officers and a civilian who attempted to leave the building just as Lim paused to help a civilian were finally found in January 2002.
For Lim -- for all of us -- Sept. 11 changed the way we view the world.
"I've always believed in evil. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a cop. I didn't know how evil evil can be," said Lim. "This could happen anyplace, anywhere. It could be your city hall. It could be a mall. We all have to be prepared. The public expects us to do our jobs."
With 24 years on the job, Lim could retire anytime. Instead, he and his new partner, a black Lab named Sprig, cover JFK and La Guardia airports.
"I'm not going to let some knucklehead in Afghanistan tell me when to leave," he said defiantly. "I'm going out on my own terms."
He made a plea to the civilians in the audience.
"Support us and know that our job is difficult. After 9/11 we had people walking up and shaking our hands. That hasn't happened for a while."
Yesterday morning, they gave David Lim a standing ovation and then they lined up to shake his hand. He'd been to hell and back and he was saluted for his courage.