Police chief pays tribute to S.A. heroes

San Antonio Express-News -- Norma Ramirez was preparing with her parents for a carefree night at a Fiesta parade when two San Antonio police officers knocked at her door. It's a universal signal of bad news - especially to the family of a police officer. "All I could hear was my mom screaming," Ramirez recalled Friday, 25 years after her brother was shot in the line of duty. Then a young cop with just two years on the force, Sgt. Roy Aguilar had been called to the 1000 block of West Woodlawn, where he was shot in the shoulder. The bullet ricocheted, wounding his neck and left eye, which couldn't be recovered in surgery. Friday, 25 years after the shooting that took his eye and forever branded him part of the special group of officers injured in the line of duty, police awarded Aguilar the department's Purple Heart Award. "We were kind of like the forgotten heroes," Aguilar said, clasping a framed certificate after a ceremony at the Police Training Academy in South San Antonio. Another 23 officers received the Purple Heart Award, bestowed on those officers killed, shot or seriously injured in the line of duty. "We talk all the time in this business about service. We talk all the time about sacrifice," Police Chief Al Philippus said. "We have had real people who had families who have suffered pain (because of) their commitment and dedication." Philippus also recognized eight officers for risky, heroic deeds. In a speech that frequently mirrored his comments at the funeral of Officer Oscar Perez, killed in March while serving a drug warrant, Philippus commended those "who, in spite of the dangers, are willing to step forward and, if necessary, make the ultimate sacrifice." Officers are not alone in exhibiting bravery. Family members, too, have to be brave. "You always worry," said Noreen Vargas, whose husband, Edward, was shot in the lower back six months ago. "You always worry, even when they're not in uniform ... every time they step out the door. You never know who is going to try to get them. They're targets, no matter what." Noreen Vargas was with her three children at a school festival in late January when she saw an officer huddled in the doorway. At first, she took the police officer's presence in stride. After all, she'd just finished speaking with her husband. Ten minutes before, he'd promised to take one last call and then join her at the school event. But the call was far from routine. Vargas and his partner, Daniel Anders, were serving a felony arrest warrant in the 7100 block of Hickory Grove when Vargas was fired on. Anders, at the back of the home, heard the gunfire and raced to his partner's side, shooting the assailant in the knee before taking cover. Vargas does not know if he will be able to return to active duty; his doctors remain concerned about possible nerve damage. Anders, who was not injured, received the Meritorious Conduct award Friday. "As police officers, we realize we have the community's support, but to be recognized by the department is really an honor," Sgt. Ernest Celaya said. In January 1988, Celaya and his partner, John Sanchez, were fired on and wounded in the face, arms and shoulders. Archbishop Patrick Flores, who was held hostage for more than nine hours Wednesday, commended all of the police officers. "I really feel like a coward because I went through danger and pain for one day, and yet you guys face this every day," he said. "Now from experience, I can say we need you. Don't quit."

Back to previous page