Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Badge #535 Signing off

As Sarah McLachlan's "In the Arms of an Angel" began, my eyes scanned the crowd. Lined along the street, like soldiers standing at attention were more then 300 law officers. They had come to show the earned respect of their fallen brother. Each badge they wore, held a black strip across their badge number. The families and visitors gathered outside the church, stood with tear swollen eyes and empty hearts as they too came to honor him for the man he was...and Sarah sang on......

In the arms of the angel, fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
your in the arms of the angel; may you find some comfort here.

Marching row after row into the church, the officers began the trek. The families were next to take the solemn steps into the coolness of the church. The 100 or more who could not fit inside stood outside, in the heat of the morning to listen and pay their respects.

There at the front of the church stood the flag draped casket. As the first person rose to approach the podium, the church fell silent, except for the sobs and the rolling salty tears, not a movement was made. Respect was being giving today to an officer of the law, a man who walked the 'thin blue line'. He walked it out of love, out of hope, and he walked it out of compassion for his fellow man. He was being honored today, because he had given his life for it.

As Sheriff Malone rose and took his turn at the podium, he told of his first impressions of the man who lay before him. He spoke of a gentle soul; one who made you feel at ease the moment he entered the room. A man who spread warmth with his smile, and laughter with his antics. A man of honor and compassion; one who carried a true joy for life. A man everyone loved and respected.
The church smiled as they nodded their agreement, they knew the man he spoke of. He spoke of an officer on his force, badge #535 and his name was Dennis Compton. This was the man we honored today.

Dennis had responded to a 'code 7'; a burglar alarm, early on a Wednesday morning. He was gunned down upon arrival. One single shot below the protective vest he wore and his life ebbed away as he lay on the ground. His comrades arriving within minutes, still too late, the shot was fatal.
As Sheriff Malone stood looking out at the attendants, he fell silent. His next words sent a chill through the crowd as hearts sank, and tears were shed. "From here on in, so that we can always remember our fallen brother, a code 7 will forever be.... code 535. The badge number of Dennis Compton." The church walls shook. Sheriff Malone turned and with heavy feet and a bowed head, took his seat.

Next up at the podium was his cousin and brother on the force, Tony Buchanan. Tony called forth another cousin, Ashley. As she rose from her seat, she paused at the first row to take the hand of Dennis's daughter Tabby, together they walked the steps and together they stood as Ashley read, the Policeman's Prayer. She cleared the tears from her throat the best she could and softly began;


The policeman stood and faced his God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, Policeman.
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To my Church have you been true?"

The policeman squared his shoulders and said,
"No, Lord I guess I ain't,
Because those of us who carry badges
Can't always be a Saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,
And at times my work was rough,
and sometimes I've been violent,
Because the streets are awfully tough.

But I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep,
I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills just got too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place
among the people here.
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fear.

If you've a place for me here, Lord
It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was silence all around the Throne
Where the Saints had often trod.
As the policeman waited quietly,
For the judgement of his God.

"Step forward now, policeman,
You've borne your burdens well.
Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in Hell."

Author Unknown

As the last line of the poem filled the air, the crowd fell silent and the very walls of the church seemed to gasp a breath of sadness. The congregation wept.
They descended the steps in solemn quiet, crying silent tears and returned to their seats among the many gathered there.

Tony took a minute to return to the podium.
He told of life long dreams and childhood schemes between the two of them.
They were the Starsky and Hutch of the neighborhood, playing cops and robbers day in and day out. Sadly, they were both cops with no robbers, but they soon found one, in Dennis' little brother Timmy. He never argued about being the bad guy, he played along. Starsky and Hutch wouldn't have it any other way.
Both had dreamed of becoming police officers and they finally accomplished that dream not too many months ago here in Colleton County. Working the same beats, traveling the same roads and at one point, driving the same car.
They really were the good guys now, wearing a real badge, carrying a real gun and facing real danger. A danger that was accepted every time that uniform was donned, every day they signed in to work, every hour in the streets...without fail.
They loved their job, it was their life. This badge of gold was worn with respect. This badge of gold was worn with pride.

Together they walked that thin blue line, together they kept us safe. Together they will still walk the beat because badge 535 will always be riding along.
With his head lowered, Tony left the podium.

Reverend Zane Brown, Colleton County Sheriff's Office chaplain stood to preside over the service. As part of his service, he spoke these words: "Two people made a choice on Wednesday morning, August 6. Deputy Dennis Compton made a choice to put on a badge and go to work. Someone else made a choice on Wednesday morning, August 6, to burglarize a home and when confronted by the man sworn to protect the people and their property, this person chose to gun him down, a man who's intention, desire and commission was to make this world a better place."

As Reverend Brown concluded, he thanked those assembled as he reminded everyone "We need more people like Dennis standing on the thin blue line between order and anarchy."

The bagpipes began their long mournfull wail as the fallen officer was carried to the waiting courtyard beyond and the mourners exited the church. The 300 officers in attendance marched out, resuming their post in the street. As the families slowly made their way to the courtyard the guards took their place and stood their ground.
The 21 gun salute rang out.
The cries tore through the crowd as the lone sound of a trumpet played Taps. The flag that had covered this officer of the law was folded and presented to his widow.
A final sound rang out through the crowd as he was being entered into the hearse:
The police radio gave the two tone emergency signal as the dispatcher asked for badge number 535 to respond. Again the sound was repeated and again the dispatcher asked for badge number 535 to respond. Finally the tones rang out one more time and this time, the dispatcher said

"Badge #535, signing off"

We wept.

In memory of
Deputy Dennis Carl Compton
Badge #535
Colleton County Sheriffs Department

End of watch: 08-06-08

"Mama take this badge off of me...I can't use it anymore"

I apologize to all who have waited for this. I had a hard time with it. As most of you know, Dennis was my nephew and one time roommate. We shared a larger then life life, I will miss my friend.


Unknown said...

Oh Sage, my heart goes out to you and yours. I can't begin to feel your pain. I could hardly even read this thru the tears. Thank You for capturing this in words for me because I couldn't be there. I would love to have been there for you to have yet another shoulder to cry on.

Dennis would be so proud of your tribute to him.

A great big loving hug to you and yours,

SuPrEmE said...

I was there and there's no way to describe the emotions I felt watching all of this. You described it beautifully. It really was something to see. He deserved every bit and more. I only hope they find the person responsible and he pays.

You know you have all my love. Thank you for bringing Dennis into my life. There were more good times than I can ever count.

Anonymous said...

Sage this is a beautiful tribute for Dennis. My heart breaks for you and know that we are all here to help you with your pain in any way we can. May God be with you and your family, Valerie

Stitchesnstrokes said...

Sage, this is an incredibly beautiful tribute to your nephew, your friend. Our prayers are with you in this time of sorrow. God bless you and your family.

Suzanne said...

You did well my friend. Dennis, the big ham, would have loved all the fuss and he'd be especially proud of this tribute. But he wouldn't want it at the cost of all the pain his family going through right now.

May the person(s) who did this feel that pain, hitting them in constant waves, every day for the rest of their live(s). May the person(s) who did this hear the wale’s of hurt from the bereaved, lifted to the heavens, constantly in the background of their pathetic lives. May they see themselves for the scum that they are every time they look in the mirror. May their tongues bring only bitterness into their mouths to feed upon. May the fragrance of death permeate their very being, the stench rising up all around them, repelling all decent folk.

So it is written, so let it be done !


P.S. Just as finished typing this, "Tears in Heaven" ended. Um...it ends with applause. ::shrug:: Perhaps someone approves.