By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
During the Civil War, 1861-1865, most of the combatants were very young, many just teen agers, low in social status, and poorly educated. Most had never been away from home when they were thrust unprepared into the bloodiest conflict this country has ever seen. They took part in battles where hundreds if not thousands died in a single day; an experience that changed that person forever. This encounter was referred to as “having been to see the elephant.” It meant seeing and living through things they never imagined and being witness to the depravity one person can visit on another.
Being a police officer is, of course, not so severe but as my colleague, Hal Collier so eloquently put it, “there are things you can’t unsee.” Think about that for a moment. You become a player in situations that no person could even dream of, no less become a party to. That can consume you and, in a way, define who you are.
Police officers are a clannish lot probably because we know how that person we are with will react in certain circumstances. We have experienced the same things and share an unspoken bond. We “have seen the elephant.”
Except for the military, you do not see retirees—some driving hundreds of miles—sit down for lunch with other retirees to relive, if only briefly, ”the experience.”
I recently attended my academy class reunion. Conversations were quiet and subdued as we sat in almost reverential. Silence as though marveling at where we had been, what we had done, and who we had become. The camaraderie and sense of nostalgia was almost palpable as I read the names of those gone before and we drank a toast to their memory.
For his play, “Henry V,” Shakespeare gave his lead character (prior to the battle) the line, “Oh we band of brothers,” used again by Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson referring to his captains. Then of course to the TV series of the same name. “Band of Brothers.” It has a certain ring to it, succinct, descriptive, and with an air of boldness and bravado.
What motivates a man or woman to take up badge and gun to do a task that other wouldn’t or more importantly—couldn’t? To look at the job as almost a “calling” much like the priesthood, to take such pleasure and joy from doing a task perhaps no one will ever know of. What is it that as others scream and run at the sound of gunfire, causes him/her to run toward the sound? I never knew an officer who did not bust his/her butt to get to a “Shots fired” or “Man with a gun call.”
We all bleed a little when our brothers fall. Too many taps, too many pipers on too many hills, Amazing Grace and the Missing Man Fly Over—with I fear more to come.
We are light years from Norman Rockwell’s whimsical Saturday Evening Post magazine covers but we will persevere—because we are “..a band of brothers who have been to see the elephant.”
Very true but unlike soldiers we are a brotherhood across many nations. We have a common purpose and do not become enemies. We are there to make our communities safe. This is Australia calling. I served 39 years at a state level and the 5 in the Federal Police. Yep have retired a couple of times but at 67 years of age have gone back to work at a local government level to develop a community emergency plan. Why one might say? Policing made we want to have a purpose and to continue to contribute.
It’s hard to let go of the law enforcement identity, isn’t it? I think it comes from believing in the job. Probably no illusions, after 39 years, right? But one still gets that tingle when they hear a siren…
I do. sigh.