National Police Week: Each of the fallen has a story to tell
There will be ceremonies all over the nation remembering the fallen this year and it is only fitting that we do this. More than 20,000 of our number have been killed in the line of duty in this nation. I would like to make a suggestion that you do something additional this year. After the sound of taps has been played and the flags are furled and you have taken the time to remember all, take a little more time to remember one. Let me tell you what I mean.
Years ago I learned as much as there was to know about one of our long forgotten fallen officers, T. Perry Gates. I did a little bit of digging and discovered how well loved he was by his fellow officers. I learned that he worked the night shift, because his wife had drowned at a picnic on the Mississippi and he was a widowed father. He got assigned to permanent nights after the death of his wife, because he found he could care for his children during the day. At night he tucked them in and they slept while he worked.
On his last night on earth Perry Gates kissed his children good night one last time. Later that night, after a relentless search he spotted three armed robbers. Perry drew his gun and shouted for them to surrender, for those who seek to render justice are fair. Perry Gates discovered those who seek to escape justice are not. All three drew their weapons and opened fire.
Gates stood his ground courageously and returned fire, but if courage alone could sustain someone, there would be no officers ever killed in the line of duty. Gates would never see his children again — at least not in this world. He was struck three times and died alone in the middle of the street.
After I felt I almost knew Gates, I visited the place that he died and found the spot he made his stand and fell. I then sought out and found the grave of Officer Perry Gates. He lies peacefully beside a maple tree next to his wife. His marker tells how he died, but gives no hint of how he lived. He was a loving husband and a doting parent and a beat cop, just like most of us. I do not know how life and death works, but I sensed that Officer Gates appreciated that someone remembered him.
Each visit to Perry reminded me that life is too short not to be enjoyed. I took the opportunity to renew my commitment to train hard off the street and pay attention on the street to survive my career physically, emotionally, and with my honor intact.
It is fitting that we remember the fallen not just in name, but how they lived and died. In every story there is a lesson to be learned. Perry Gates died September 8, 1900, but the lessons of his life and death are current today. Officer Gates taught me that courage drives police officers, but does not sustain them. Tactics and skills sustain them. He taught me to lose and gun fight or a street fight is to lose everything.
As you remember the fallen this Police Week, listen, for they are speaking to you. They are saying, “Thank you for remembering us. Now go out and live and love, while it lasts…but be careful out there.”