I was fulfilling one of my duties as the chaplain for the St. James, Missouri Police Department. It is a duty that I have performed more often that I would care to, but it is a duty that I carry out with all sincerity and respect. I represented our department at the funeral for Washington County Deputy Sheriff Michael G. Triplett.
I have attended the funerals for two of our own officers, a county sheriff, troopers from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and probably a number of other law enforcement officers that I have forgotten. But there, in a small Southeast Missouri town, the procession of squad cars and other vehicles was longer than I ever remember at previous funerals. I was driving somewhere in the middle of that procession, yet I couldn't see the front or the end of the procession until we had reached the cemetery and vehicles were parked.
As we drove through the business district of East Prairie, drivers were showing their respect by pulling off on the shoulder of the road. Also scattered along the route were small groups of people standing in silence as we escorted this fallen officer to his final resting place. But one individual caught my attention more than anyone else along our somber route.
As I glanced to my right, I noticed one lone car; the only vehicle parked in that block. Standing in front of the vehicle was a young man dressed casually in what appeared to be a flannel shirt and khaki slacks. He appeared to be barely old enough to be out of high school, but his haircut and his military bearing seemed to indicate that he might have been a member of our Armed Forces at home on leave, or possibly a recently discharged veteran.
Instead of standing casually watching the procession as many people were, this young man was standing straight and tall at attention. As Deputy Triplett's casket was carried to the hearse, and as it was carried from the hearse to his final resting place, we gave our comrade a salute. But this young man, standing beside the road, held a salute so crisp and clean that it made our salute almost seem meager.
Here I was in the middle of the procession, and I suspect that young man had been holding his salute since the lead escort approached his position. Furthermore, I think I can safely assume that he continued to hold that salute until the last vehicle in the funeral procession passed his position. I can't even imagine what it would be like to hold a salute for that long a time.
Long forgotten are the names of many of those fallen officers and most of the details of their funerals. Yet I am confident that the sight of that young man and his salute will long remain etched in my mind; as will the memory of the tears that trickled down my face, and the feelings of pride and respect that I felt for the brave men and women who daily pin on that badge and head out to keep each and every one of us safe.
Rev. Paul E. Goddard, Chaplain
St. James Police Department
St. James, Missouri