This is the first of two Hal Collier Ramblings about Cop Funerals. This is a topic no police officer wants to deal with and yet we have to. Hal speaks eloquently of the friends he has lost.
By Hal Collier
I’m about to describe the funerals where I knew the officer and in some cases the family. These still haunt me after four decades.
It was raining, just six days before Christmas, December 19, 1984. I was on a day off when the phone rang. It was Keith, a partner and he flatly stated, “Did you hear the news, Duey Johnson was shot and killed in China Town!” Duey and his partner had responded to a robbery alarm at a jewelry store.
I swear, it took me minutes to breathe again. Duey was a probationer that I had trained just two years ago. I had trained over hundreds of probationers, but I never lost one.
Duane C. Johnson, was a “Baby Huey” type of kid. He had a heart as big as he was. Duey had 3 loves, His wife “Cat” Catherine, the United States Marine Corps and finally the LAPD. Duey use to brag that he was in one of the Rocky movies. He was in the Marine Corps color guard in the boxing ring.
Unlike most probationers, Duey stayed in touch. We even talked about having dinner together sometime in the future. It was a few days after, that I got a call from some officer downtown that I was asked to be a pallbearer at Duey’s funeral. I had attended dozens of cop funerals but I was never a Pallbearer.
I spent the next two days shining everything that was visible on my uniform and everything that was under it. I wanted to make Duey proud. Along with a few dozen other Hollywood cops, all in their finest dress blue uniforms, black elastic bands across our badges, we headed to the church.
I walked into the church and almost fainted. Duey’s twin brother, Dana, met me. He was in his Virginia Beach Police uniform and I swear he was the spitting image of Duey. Duey and Dana were both cops. They gave each pallbearer a pair of white cotton gloves. I’ll talk about those damn white gloves later.
The service at the church was very difficult for me and ride to the cemetery seemed to take forever. I don’t think I brought enough Kleenex. At the cemetery, you put on those white cotton gloves. The gloves look nice and have a dignified appearance. The casket is removed from the hearse and the pallbearers will now carry Duey to his final resting place.
As I mentioned earlier, Duey was large boned and the casket was heavy. I could hardly hold the polished handles of the casket with those damn white gloves. The graveside service was a blur, I remember the 21 gun salute and the folded flag from Duey’s casket being presented to “Cat”. The pallbearers then walked up to the casket and placed the white gloves on Duey’s casket and said good bye.
We left the cemetery and headed back to Hollywood. My shift started in 2 hours. I have never let a December 19 pass by without thinking of Duey.
October 9, 1990 I, arrived at work early to go for a pre-watch run. I saw the Hollywood Homicide Detectives already at work. They informed me that Russ Kuster had been shot and killed at a restaurant by a deranged Hungarian mobster. Russ was a renowned Hollywood Homicide Investigator and had handled many high profile cases. Russ had returned fire and solved his own homicide.
The drive to the cemetery was lined with citizens. Firemen had American flags draped from their hook and ladders. I attended the funeral with my current female probationer, she forgot her Kleenex, but no problem I had plenty. They played those damn Bag Pipes.
I have been a pallbearer at two other Hollywood officers’ funerals and attended a lot of others. They were all just as emotional.
5-27-93, a Viet Nam Veteran who always said, “Hal, got a quarter for a cup of coffee for a Vet?” Joe owed me over 10 dollars. James Pagliotti, 6-22-87 who I played flag football with on Hollywood’s team. Rob Cottle, 3-24-10, who I supervised at Southeast Division and later at Hollywood. Rob died in Afghanistan serving as a Marine reserve. He was a SWAT officer on LAPD. He always went out of his way to say “Hi Sarge!”
I don’t go to cop funerals anymore, I just can’t handle the emotions, some nights I don’t sleep very good with all the memories of lost cops! I don’t know how their families live with it.
You might think I had dozens of those black elastic bands that go over your badge. No, the sad part is I just saved one and kept it in my locker and wore it every time we had a cop funeral. I still have it.
Still want my job? These scars don’t show on the outside.