Gone and Deserving of Being Remembered

Gone and Deserving of Being Remembered

By Stephen Owsinski

The heartfelt phrase “Gone But Not Forgotten” is often somberly said and sincerely written after a selfless law enforcement officer is sacrificed in the line of duty or otherwise, and police culture honorably illustrates how it holds dear all fallen heroes, both recent and historical.

Let’s start with a very rare example: a 99-year-old deputy sheriff in Texas who passed away on February 17, 2023. According to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), Deputy Bill Hardin was surrounded by friends and loved ones, his highly decorated police uniform near his bedside.

Exemplifying the Gone But Not Forgotten credo, a JCSO spokesperson wrote the following sentiments:

“Bill was a true living legend. The oldest and longest-running Peace Officer in the world. But more than that he was our brother and our friend. Bill never failed to share his knowledge with our new deputies and was always ready with a handshake and a smile.

“His presence within the walls of this agency will be truly missed. But his legacy will never be forgotten.”

(Photo courtesy of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.)

From what I gather, Deputy Holland “Bill” Hardin literally served his whole life as a law enforcement officer. Mathing a little, I came up with a whopping 76 years wearing a police uniform, serving citizens in the Lone Star state.

“Bill started his police career on 2/1/1947 with the Fort Worth Police Dept. He worked for Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, and then here at Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for the last 28 years,” JCSO Sheriff Adam King explained.

Referring to Deputy Hardin as an “outstanding deputy,” the JCSO posted the lineage of his beginnings in law enforcement, equipped with a plastic whistle, making around $165. a month. Listen to what Deputy Hardin says in a brief video recorded a few years before his death—my, how far we’ve come in policing.

Speaking of how far in a positive light, Deputy Hardin achieved the rare centurion milestone, a been-there beacon, the department’s go-to guy imparting a breadth of law enforcement prowess and wisdom, offering knowledge to predecessors new to the public safety profession—something to be embraced, given the ongoing shortage of LEOs and police retirements by the boatload.

Before his death, Deputy Hardin served as an associate advising command staff on law enforcement matters and agency guidance. He may not have worn the top cop’s star but he was a star in all things selfless and good.

Police veterans whose law enforcement experiences are libraries stacked with life-saving materials are nothing shy of holy grails in cop culture. Indeed, there are FTOs (field training officers) who do their darndest to impart troubleshooting mechanisms regarding the constant complexities, unique nuances, and deadly dynamics inherent in police work. Yet there is nothing like a highly seasoned copper to offer his/her book on public safety, namely surviving the mean streets.

One of the takeaways in Deputy Hardin’s philosophical view on policing in America is for new cops to somehow construct the ability to see from the back of their heads, saying “You gotta wonder what’s going on behind you.” Sound advice. Contemporarily speaking, the saying goes “I’ve got your six!” But with fewer officers nowadays, that take is not necessarily achievable, potentially resulting in deadly encounters that evolve in less than a blink.

Sadly, the Officer Down Memorial Page has been up-ticking with fatalities of our nation’s cops, stemming from the murderous intentions of miscreants who are ever-emboldened by the hateful calls of anti-cop throats.

That says tons about the bravery exhibited by the dwindled roster of cops who boot and suit up, toeing the public safety line while also embracing the stark reality of those who came before them, namely the fallen. And that brings us to another heartfelt remembrance of a policeman who succumbed in 1983 and was recently the focus of a graveside vigil by cop cohorts and familial loved ones…

The West Carrollton, Ohio, police department HQ has a memorial on the compound grounds, specifically dedicated to Officer Frederick J. Beard who, on February 16, 1983, was killed in the line of duty. Here is the plaque depicting an image of Officer Beard and a synopsis of how he died trying to save others from malicious felons preying on people.

(Photo courtesy of the West Carrollton Police Department.)

A West Carrollton PD press release indicated the annual ritual of stoically standing by their fallen, no matter how many years ago the loss was chronicled:

“Today [February 16, 2023], Chief Woodard, along with a small group of officers and support staff, drove to the Brookville cemetery where Officer Beard is buried and placed a memorial wreath on his gravesite. May his memory remain eternal.”

(Photo courtesy of the West Carrollton Police Department.)

Much like anyone who stands graveside and somberly remembers someone who passed, conjuring the experiences shared, cops do the same thing.

I routinely visit a midnight-shift squad mate of mine, a fine officer much younger than me who, in February 2013, was laid to rest in a cemetery nearby. I go visit him, tidy his engraved stone, and talk to him. I listen, too…

Since his police funeral, every time I visit this fallen detective and communicate tacitly, the wind chimes his parents perched on a nearby tree’s branch always activate with gentle gusts (even on hot, humid, still days). Chiming in, I believe, telepathically.

His death jolted our agency. They all do.

Thereafter, plans were approved by the city council, allowing the police force to purchase and plant a memorial tree in front of police HQ. Through the years, this tree has blossomed, an embedded plaque in his honor at its base. It is tended by police members and family during formal annual vigils of remembrance and informally throughout the year. It overlooks the police fleet in the nearby parking lot. I’m sure our fallen hero looms over the active-duty cops traversing the unknowns across the municipal landscape, guiding their 12-hour shifts.

Additionally, a city-owned garden has an Angel of Hope bronze statue, its architected brickwork containing an etched one with our fallen detective’s name, birth date, and EOW (end of watch date), underscored by the words “Our Cop Angel.”

(Photo courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Migliore.)

The Angel of Hope site is encircled by a half-wall and benches, overlooking a river with abundant Sunshine State wildlife…a place where I was often joined by other squad mates, out of the cruisers, stretching, rekindling the good times experienced with our fallen friend and colleague, “Migs,” and also mired by the thoughts of such a significant loss of a marvelous public-serving human being.

(Photo courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Migliore.)

As with all our fallen brothers and sisters who dedicated their lives to the paramount safety of others, we honor you and never forget the ultimate sacrifices made on behalf of many.