They will never forget.
The memories of the Puerto Rican separatist bombing campaign four decades ago remain fresh in the minds of first-responders and survivors — including an ex-fire marshal, a former bomb squad tech and the son of a man killed at Fraunces Tavern.
On New Year’s Eve in 1982, NYPD bomb squad tech Anthony Senft was sent to defuse a bomb packed with dynamite near the old Manhattan federal courthouse on Centre St.
Moments earlier, Officer Rocco Pascarella, working security at police headquarters, lost part of his left leg when another bomb exploded.
Senft’s police dog, High Hat, detected four sticks of dynamite. Senft gave High Hat a snack, then tied the dog behind a wall. Senft and his partner Richard Pastorella, both in bomb suits, approached.
“He was kneeling and I bent over and, boom — that’s all I remembered for a month,” Senft, 70, recalled Thursday.
He broke his hip, lost his right eye, had both eardrums replaced and still lives with chronic pain. Pastorella lost five fingers and was blinded.
“You sneeze, it hurts. You cough,” Senft said. “You can’t even touch the bad eye. That’s how painful it is.”
Investigators tied the explosion to the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional, or FALN — which planted more than 100 bombs in New York City and Chicago during the 1970s and ’80s.
On Jan. 24, 1975, seven years before Senft and Pastorella nearly died, Fire Marshal John Knox arrived to an appalling scene of smoke and carnage at the historic Fraunces Tavern on Water St.
A large FALN bomb had exploded there, killing four and wounding 43.
“It was lunchtime,” Knox, 81, recalled Tuesday. “The walls were blown out, debris on the street. People were burned, they were covered with soot, dirt. It was mayhem.”
Later that very day, 9-year-old Joseph Connor was playing with friends on his birthday when his mother called him inside. His father, Frank, 33, had been killed at Fraunces.
“It was as bad a situation as you can imagine,” Joseph Connor, now 50, said. “You go from celebrating your birthday to finding out your dad was murdered, all in an instant.”
The terror group later released a communique, which read, “You have unleased a storm from which you comfortable Yankis (sic) cannot escape.”
Senft, Knox and Connor have turned their thoughts to those days because National Puerto Rican Day Parade organizers will honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, 74, a mastermind of the bombing campaign, on June 11 as a “National Freedom Hero.”
Lopez Rivera served nearly 40 years in prison for sedition — plotting to overthrow the government — and other felonies for his role in the FALN. He was sentenced to 15 additional years for plotting a prison escape. President Barack Obama commuted his 55-year sentence in January, and he was released from house arrest in San Juan on May 17.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill, the police and fire unions and other groups will boycott the event as a result. Sponsors, including the Daily News, Corona, Univision, AT&T and the Yankees, have pulled out.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor de Blasio say they will march. On Thursday, Mark-Viverito repeated her support for Lopez Rivera, saying he was “not linked to any act of violence.”
A senior law enforcement source told The News on Thursday there is no doubt that Lopez Rivera was deeply involved.
Dynamite found in a Chicago safe house linked to him was the same as the explosive used in an Aug. 3, 1977, blast in New York, the source said. In that explosion at the Mobil Employment Services office on 150 E. 42nd St., one man died and five others were injured.
Dynamite, timers, blasting caps, disguises and ammo were found in a Chicago apartment linked to him, the source said.
Cooperating witness Alfred Mendez said Lopez Rivera trained him to make bombs, the source said.
Senft, who retired in 2008 and lives on Long Island, calls the lionization of Lopez Rivera the worst kind of politics.
“I’m absolutely appalled,” he said. “We’re making a folk hero out of him. He’s a terrorist.”
He said the ex-con is getting his freedom back while those killed or maimed get nothing.
“No one’s giving me my eyesight back. But this is not about me. I’m talking for the other people who are blind, who lost their legs, who were killed. I was lucky. I survived.”
Knox said he finds Mark-Viverito’s position puzzling.
“Everybody should turn their back on this guy after this thing that happened in England,” he said, referring to the Manchester pop concert bombing on Monday that killed 22. “I still don’t get it why this woman (Mark-Viverito) would support it.”
Knox worked in a period when bombings were frequent and fires raged across the city. The FALN, the Weathermen and the Black Liberation Army were all active.
“The social dynamics of all of these things happening at the same time were incredible,” Knox says. “It seemed like every night there was a bombing or a serious fire, and it was almost always one of these groups involved.”
Knox also responded to the Queens apartment where FALN member William Morales was seriously injured when a pipe bomb he was building exploded on July 12, 1978. He blew off all of his fingers.
“He looked like a piece of rare roast beef,” he said. “Part of his face was gone. He was bleeding right through everything.”
Morales somehow survived and escaped from the hospital. He has lived in Cuba, away from extradition, for decades.
Knox and Senft don’t believe the majority of Puerto Ricans support Lopez Rivera’s beliefs.
“I don’t think he’s a freedom fighter, and I don’t think most Puerto Ricans do, either,” Knox said. “If you talk to them, more than half want to stay as a commonwealth.”
Connor followed his dad into finance and worked at his late father’s company.
“I want someone to take ownership of what they did. If Lopez Rivera is so innocent, tell us, Oscar, who did the Fraunces Tavern bombing? I never asked for any of this. My father didn’t ask for any of this.”