A Shared Chunk of Metal
By Gerry Goldshine
I looked around the auditorium. All the seats have been filled and yet more file in, lining up against the walls. Still more stand uncomplaining outside. I recognize few of the faces, many of them showing the strains of unimaginable grief. I share with them a chunk of polished metal; a star, a shield, a badge. Some wear uniforms in shades of blue, others in shades of tan. I look to the front, at the flag draped casket lit by a single spotlight from above. Am I the only one wondering if that is to be my future fate?
Pictures taken during more serene and happier times line a table to one side while colorful displays of flowers line the one opposite it. The service begins. Friends, family, coworkers and a few city dignitaries all come forward to tell of the impact the officer had upon them or their community. Some of those speaking cannot finish, their anguish overwhelming the control they thought they had. Others find they cannot utter a single word and weep instead. As if the tears of another are silent permission, many of us also lose the control we thought we possessed. Then a mournful silence fills the building as the honor guard marches forward in time to some silent cadence. As the pallbearers move past, carrying their sacred burden, tears fill my eyes once more but I struggle not to surrender to the sorrow I feel; not yet.
I take my place in a motorcade dominated by black and white vehicles. Strobing red and blue lights accentuate an orderly line as far as the eye can see. How strange this all must seem to those we pass, to those who do not know the burden we all carry as we make our way to the cemetery, some miles distant. I watch the skillful performance of the motorcycle officers, leapfrogging from intersection to intersection so that the procession may pass unmolested. Tears come again as car after car drives past two disheveled homeless men standing motionless, at attention, rendering a salute as smart as that of any honor guard.
We file into the cemetery silently, the creaking of our polished leather gear the only sound. The gray of the granite headstones are in stark contrast to the vivid green of the grass. Shortly after the last of us has surrounded the gravesite, from the south comes the distinctive sound of multiple helicopters. A formation of five passes overhead and as they do, one peels away leaving a vacant space. As their sounds fade, sharp and precise commands ring out. “Standby Honor Guard! – Honor Guard, Attention!” With practiced precision, the seven people snap to obey. “Ready…Aim…Fire!” Most of the civilians present flinch as seven rifle shots ring out simultaneously. Twice more the command to fire is given; a twenty-one gun salute. Soon after, we are called to “Attention” and two buglers begin to play “Taps”, one echoing the other. The tears come freely now to all of us. Though I cannot hear what is spoken, I can imagine the Chief of Police’s words of solace as he presents the tightly folded flag to a young child. Then the mournful sound of a solitary bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” further rends our already aching hearts; aching for someone most of us there never knew. Almost everyone is now weeping openly as the ceremony concludes. We have lain to rest a brave soul and fellow officer.
I share with all of them, a chunk of polished metal.
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement
in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department.
Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.