Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ceremony of Honor

I just got back from the ceremony at the Jefferson County Law Enforcement Center for National Police Officers Memorial Week. They honored the police dog that died this year, D'Jenno, and also my grandpa, Billy Sutherlin. I didn't really plan on attending, because the service was at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to be there. If my grandma or my mom were alive, I knew they'd be there. I asked my boss, and he found someone to cover my 3rd hour. On my way out the door today, he stopped me and said, "I just thought you'd like to know, but Susan (one of our district's subs) called this morning and offered to sub for free so you could go to the ceremony." I didn't need her, but that was so nice of her to offer!

I got to the Law Enforcement Center a little before 10. The storm clouds were rolling in, and it was starting to rain. I visited with the officers and guests and stood by my Uncle Robert (my grandma's brother and a former Posse member) and Dick Bogner (dear family friend and former Posse member). Despite the wind and light rain, we went outside where the officers had lined up in two lines. Two men played the bagpipes. Police Chief Randy Cooksey guided me up to the front to stand by him and the other officers.

Several people spoke about service and sacrifice. The most touching to me though was when Dick spoke. He talked of having to tell his son Rick, 12 at the time, that his fishing buddy had been killed in the line of duty. Man, that got to me. I imagined my mom and my grandma standing next to me, one on either side. I swear I felt my grandma at my right elbow. I know she was there. I got to thinking that as long as people are remembering, Grandpa isn't really gone. And as long as people are remembering, I know him, even though I've never met him in person. I'm lucky in that way, I guess.

The service ended with an officer (I wish I remembered his name... maybe it was Sgt. Thomas?) talking about D'Jenno, the police dog that passed away this year. That was touching too because I remember Grandma talking about the police dog from her active days of being on City Council. You could tell the officer was really grieving the loss of this dog that had saved his life on at least one occasion. His kids were there too, and they were just sad about losing their dog, but you couldn't help but be moved. They spread the dog's ashes out by the Law Enforcement Center sign, so she would always be there.

There was a reception inside after, and I couldn't stay long, but I stayed long enough to take pictures of the display set up to honor Grandpa's memory. The plaques hang on the wall at the center all the time, but this trifold with the clippings was set up just for this occasion.

I'm so glad I went. I'm honored to be Billy Sutherlin's granddaughter, and I'm proud of the sacrifice he made. I was touched to see that he made a difference in many people's lives, and that they still remember, almost 40 years later. My mom was 19 when my grandpa died. The life of every member of my family, including myself, was altered that day. It's pretty intense to think about. My mom used to speak to reserve police officers about my grandpa and his death. She did it as part of training programs all across the state, to remind officers about the danger, the honor, the sacrifice of their jobs. Wow. It makes me so proud of them both. I know my grandpa would be honored to have his legacy continue in that way.

I look back on this and notice that I've been writing "proud" and "honor" so much. But I guess those were the overwhelming words of the day. I was proud and honored. Beyond words.

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