Sunday, January 15, 2012

I was fine, right up to the last call


“PRESENT… ARMS” the command was shouted to the cordon.  Ceremoniously slow (on a four count), I raised my right hand in perfect unison with the group to salute.  A few moments later the casket of a slain officer moved passed me.  Behind the fallen officer, walked his widow and 7 year old son and 3 year old daughter.  The widow clearly grief stricken by the untimely slaughter of her husband, the children not fully grasping the finality of what was happening. 

As the family passed me, I moved my 1000 yard stare down to the little children who surely were deeply missing their father.  I notice that both children with crystal blue eyes were looking back at me, smiling.  I assume that they were raised to like police officers just like their father and not fully understanding what was going on and were happy to see so many police officers with shiny shoes and badges and colorful ribbons.  I don’t know for certain why they smiled at me but they did.  Without thinking I broke bearing and gave them a slight smile back.  At the same time both of their smiles grew and their eyes got even brighter.  I would be lying if I told you I saw what happened next because instantly my vision became too blurry to see as tears welled up.  The rest of the family passed by and I wasn’t about to break bearing again.  The command was given, “ORDER...ARMS”.  Again ceremoniously I lowered my salute on a four count and as had been previously arranged, we were given to command “Honor Guard..Post” the cordon in perfect unison made a right and left face respectively to face the funeral and fell into a pre arranged ranks. 

The rest of the funeral went on with full honors.  There were stories shared of lives that had been edified by the fallen officer.  How simple tasks he had done with courage, conviction and honor had impacted people’s lives in a positive manner.  To the officer it was just another day at work of serving others.  He died on a call that every officer has been on.  He was in circumstances that every officer has been in.  It was by most accounts a routine situation right up to the moment that the murderous suspect ended the officers life.  Except for being murdered, it was just like any other day as an officer.  Exactly what we all face every day.  It was a touching ceremony and I felt honored to be a part of it. 

I was able to maintain my composure right up to the last call.  For those of you that have not attended a police officer’s funeral there is a tradition called the “Last Call”.  It is something that I can’t talk about without getting choked up.  Even as I write this my eyes are blurry.  At the graveside the police radios are tuned to a certain frequency and in the silence, a dispatcher gets on and calls for the fallen officer by their call sign.  The silence of no reply by the officer is as piercing as a dagger to the heart.  Generally three times they call for the officer and three times there is no reply.  Then the dispatcher says something to the effect, calling the officer by their call sign, that they have arrived on their final call and are 10-7 (end of shift) forever.  At this funeral it sounded something like this.  “Mary four thirty one…………Mary four thirty one………..Mary four thirty one……………….. Mary four thirty one is 97 on his final assignment in Heaven and will be 10-7 forever.  Mary four thirty one…. you will be missed by all, we will take it from here.”

It is the last call that will make the hardest, salty police officer weep like a baby.  It’s not uncommon to here the widow or mother wail and cry during the last call.  Its during the last call that the occasional inhale sounds like sobbing blubber.  You struggle to regain your composure as your eyes fill up and you hear the officer to your left and right, behind and in front of you sniffle struggling themselves to hold back the flow of emotion. On this day, I was fine right up to the last call.   This year is starting off with tragic statistics, 5 officers murdered in the first two weeks.  Stay safe, be vigilant and do all that you can do to love your family and let those that you love, know that you love them.  Every officer killed in the line of duty, started thier shift just like any other day, not knowing if today was going to be the day.  I feel like I leave a little bit of my soul at each funeral, this one more than most.

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