Today was a very different day – a special day – but not in the way most would think when a day is deemed “special.”
Today, I was given a privilege. One that not many other civilians get to witness, let along walk alongside and be part of the process.
Today, I walked with the thousands of brothers and sisters in law enforcement while they layed one of their own to rest.
There are not appropriate words to describe today, but I would sure like to try – because so many moments will live in my heart forever. Many of those will be there because they are so unique that they will never be replicated. Others, because they were snapshots that made me feel so many emotions at once.
If it would be possible, I would love to show everyone a video of today – but a video, without the experience, would be meaningless.
We started our day at the Savage PD, riding along with others from the department. Our squads were joined by several other local communities as we began the trek north towards Cold Spring. Our conversation was casual, talking about how Frank is doing, how school is coming along, and how the Captain will spend his retirement.
Every few minutes, as I looked behind us, we were joined by other cars heading north as well. Some sped by us, trying to catch up with their city – the departments like to stay together so that they can be near one another during the service.
As I watched, a car near the front of the line, at least half a mile away from us, turned on his lights. Car after car became illuminated – red, blue and yellow – flashing lights as far as the eye couldsee in front of us, and very quickly, behind us. I began to tear up, the first of many times today, as I truly felt what it meant to be in this convoy of cars. As we neared the turn off for St. John’s University, we saw cars pulled over on the side of the road, watching the procession and taking pictures.
I don’t blame them, I would have done the same thing. The site was both beautiful and heartbreaking.
The parade to get to the school was a kaleidoscope of colors – white cars, black cars, dark cars and light. Different agencies, cities, states and countries. All arriving together to honor one of their own.
As the officers began to gather in the sports arena to be briefed on the procedures, I took a moment to listen to voice mail. Before returning, I was greeted with a “Hey, it’s Frank the Tanks Wife!” Thank you officer, for those few words – it brought sunshine to my heart to know that even on a day like today, Frank hasn’t been forgotten.
I became nervous when I realized I was one of a very few civilians in the line up. Uniforms abounded, and I felt out of place. I said so to our chaplain Jill, also with us today, and she told me what she always tells me.
“You are just fine, you are right where you should be.”
And I believed her.
We began our walk to the church, with these thousands of officers, easily walking together toward the common goal of the day – to honor Officer Decker and his family.
The movement of so many people to one location is not easy, but it was made to look effortless by the organization of LEMA and others that take pride in these services. This pride could be felt with each pause to allow people into the lines, a parting of the ways for someone to pass, or the moments reflection in front of a saluting team member holding a flag in salute.
We entered the church, filing through in straight lines, and we were greeted by another law enforcement group offering support – Backing the Blue Line. This organization is another local Police Wives group – they greeted the families with hundreds of blue roses, offering their support.
And although few noticed, alone on a bench, was another grieving police wife, taking it all in, smiling mildly at those that recognized her. Her husband, also killed in the line of duty, is still remembered today by many. When I saw her I remembered that yes, we grieve, we are here, and these families grieve forever. She came to the hospital when we were there many months ago, and here she is again today, offering her support to others.
As we sat in place in the church, we spent the next hour watching department after department file in. It became peaceful, solemn in the church. The bagpipe and drum corp marched in and aligned themselves at the front of the church. The beautiful haunting music lifted us all to a new place, setting the scene for the procession of the family and casket as it entered the church with the honor guard.
During the ceremony, I wondered about the wife of this officer, what this means to her. Does she get to feel, for a moment, that we are here for her? That other wives of officers, sitting so close, yet so far away, just want her to know that we are here? That we will always be here for her?
I just don’t know.
The beauty of the church was noted in its’ simplicity to me. The concrete walls, marked with nothing but ridged lines, and the beautiful seating angled toward the pulpit made for many moments of peacefulness during the ceremony.
As I glances around on occasion, I was met with solemn nods, and occasion smiles as people recognized Frank, and offered a salute, a head nod, to him.
You could hear the sniffles, the sadness, from the officers touched, pained by the openness and honesty as the family described a man made for his family, with parents, brothers and sisters, a wife, and four wonderful children. I was inspired by their description, and felt pride for the Cold Spring community for having had such a wonderful officer in their department.
His loss will be felt in this community for some time.
As we were escorted out of the church, I was again struck by how many officers were at hand. We worked our way back to the car, to begin the processional to the cemetery. and noted huge parking lot after parking lot full of police and emergency vehicles. As we returned to our cars, grateful for the warmth after being out in the biting wind for a few minutes, we watched as the state patrol lined the road near our lot, and stood in salute as we left. Another amazing moment to witness,
We formed two lines, this gigantic procession of vehicles – we turned on the highway, and the visual scope of this impact hit me hard – as far as I could see, in two winding lines, were law enforcement vehicles, lights on, giving honor to this family. As we passed different cars – Golden Valley, Grand Meadow, Thunder Bay, Sheriff after Sheriff – you could see the wonder and awe on their faces as well, and the pride they felt at being part of the process.
Mile after mile, we drove by corn fields, tiny communities, and looked on as small clusters of people, sometimes one or two, sometimes alone, stood at attention, often with flags flying, in honor of this fallen hero. So many taking pictures and video of this wonderful display of a hero welcomed home one more time.
A lone man, parked in a corn field, standing tall in salute, while holding a large,billowing flag took my attention. His stance, his honor, his pain, could be felt as we drove by. This community lives a sad and horror that is palpable today.
As we move closer to town, I realize the we were passing by the schools – the children, at first small, young faces, then older, clearly highs school students – lined the road in tribute to their officers. Many were holding flags, the younger ones waving them as we drive by. Officers wave to the kids, and they wave back, smiling as their faces light up as they catch the eyes of the officers.
As we near the church, the reality again hits that this is not the end of this emotionally charged day for this family. We know that they are in the second procession, in buses, and that we need to be ready for when they arrive to lay Officer Decker to rest.
We all park in a huge field, recently plowed, to wait for the entire procession to get into place. This takes much longer than you would think – although we were with some of the first cars to arrive, it was more than 30 minutes before the end of the line got to the field. Many officers took this time to greet one another, and to walk up a hill to take pictures of the awesome display of brotherhood. A K-9 took a much needed run for a bit, and others grabbed a quick bite to eat, as finding time to eat was not a priority for the day.
We were given notice over the radio to make our way to the outside of the cemetery gates. This church, so small in it’s profile, is filled right now with the glory of many prayers standing outside. With flags flying from different cities all over the state, we lines ourselves up with the departments, and stood still. The bitter wind was blowing hard, whipping between us. I am standing alongside thousands of officers, at attention, and at that moment, filled with the awesomeness that it is to be married into law enforcement. Minute after minute creeps by – standing still – with no sounds heard but occasional shifting of boots, the squeaking of leather moving on a belt.
Then you can hear it, the clomping of horse hooves, hitting the cement. The creaking of the cart, the snort and whinny of the horses. I lift my head from my bowed position. As I glance through the sea of officers, I catch a glimpse of the carriage drivers, and then I see the casket, covered with a flag, for just a moment.
My heart stops, and I try to stop my thought process from going where it has been trying to go all day.
Breathe, I tell myself. I lean back slightly, just enough to bump into Frank. He leans in and whispers “What?” I shake my head. It is enough to hear his voice, to feel his solid body behind me.
The honor guard, the casket, and the family make their way to their places. I can see none of this activity, being so short and surrounded by the sea of maroon and blue. They are at attention, and at times salute. I cannot hear but murmurs of the service, but I can feel the emotions of it.
What I can see our boots. Boots to the left, to the right, and in front of me. Law enforcement boots have a certain look to them. I know them well. I flash back to a night, many months ago, when I stood in an ER hallway, studying the boots of officers, not speaking, wondering how I got there at 3 am, and if my officerswas even alive anymore. I remember in that moment that I looked at boot, boot, boot, then odd medical boot. That day I looked up into the face of a police chaplain, and although it was the kindest face I would ever get to meet, and later to know and love, it brought me a moment of trauma as I, at that moment, thought Frank had been killed. It was a moment that I would never forget, and it is now in my head, brought back by this show of boots, standing in a field of dust, at attention. I glance right, and smile at Jill, standing next to me, and feel my heart release.
It is okay. We are okay.
And some day, although it can’t be comprehended now, this family will be okay.
Never perfect, never whole again, never back to the way things were, but okay.
I am grateful that I hear the repeated murmur through the group of the salute, and I close my eyes for a second.
The first shot in salute
The second shot in salute
The third shot in salute.
Then taps, echoing on itself with two bugles, begins to play.
It is beautiful. It is heartbreaking. It is breathtaking.
Silence. Wind begins to buffet around us again.
You can hear them before you see them. The rotary blades of the helicopters. Then suddenly, they burst through my visual field and fly overhead – two together, flying by, in tribute to this fallen hero.
Breathe. Helicopters, another connection.
Beautiful again. A rewriting of a fear into something so inspiring and honorable. No longer fearful
A few more moments of silence, and we are dismissed. I realize that I am so cold I am shaking. Shivering, and I look for Frank. He is by my side, smiling at me. I look around, and officers take a few moments, as we walk through the dirt, to say goodbye, share a handshake. ask to get together soon.
It is not often that many get to see one another, it is sometimes moments like these that bring them together.
Moments like Frank’s accident, with so many officers in the waiting room, the hallways, the elevators, sharing a greeting, passing a business card, offering a handshake.
It is often in tragedy that they are brought together, this amazing brotherhood/sisterhood of shared faith, honor and respect for one another.
Nothing can describe this moment, nothing but awe, and respect for them all.
As we pause to look for the other Savage officers, a Bloomington officer stops to say hello to Frank. She tells Frank hello, and tells him it is good to see him back, and to keep fighting. He thanks her, and looks at me and smiles.
I know what he is thinking. And before I can say anything, he looks at me and says “It wasn’t me, not that I didn’t try” He knows. He knows that I have been flashing in my head, that this was almost us, we could have been standing in these shoes, watching from a much different angle, a different perspective all together.
The perspective that the Decker family had today. Seeing the pageantry, feeling the heart wrenching pain, feeling the finality of the situation.
This family will sit in my heart for a long time. God Bless you Alicha, for being part of the law enforcement family forever. Know that we will have you with us each and every day. We honor you, and your family, and Tommy’s family. Forever.
We will have you with us – even if you don’t know us – we are here for you. For whatever you need, even if it is just to know we are here.
We are a strong family. Living along the thin blue line. Together.