The 12th anniversary of Lodi P.D. Officer Rick Cromwell's death in the line of duty was last week. Most people consider him to be a hero because he lost his life while trying to keep the citizens of our city safe.
Since 9/11, the public has frequently voiced their appreciation for the job that law enforcement officers and firefighters do. To this day, people will come up to us to say "thank you" or try to buy us a cup of coffee (no doughnut jokes, please) as means of expressing their gratitude. Those gestures are humbling.
But we police officers have heroes, too. We come across them during our shifts each day. They don't wear uniforms. They don't drive around in cool black-and-white patrol cars or shiny red fire trucks. Hollywood doesn't make TV shows and movies about them.
They deserve recognition more than you will ever know, but rarely does anyone take notice. They are real life examples of the word "courage."
People like principals Celeste Bordner, at Erma B. Reese Elementary School, and Maria Cervantes, at Heritage Elementary School. The years have been tough on them as they've poured their hearts and souls into providing a safe, positive learning environment for the thousands of young students who have walked, not run, through the halls of their elementary schools. They, along with their fellow LUSD principals, teachers and staff, fight bureaucracy, poverty and, sometimes, parents as they struggle to form a solid foundation for the lives of their students.
People like pastors Tim Stevenson and Phil Orosco. They are law enforcement chaplains who have the unenviable task of accompanying officers as they deliver the news that a loved one has been killed. They blink back tears and try to get past the lump in their throat as they put an arm around a father or mother who has just learned their young son or daughter will not be coming home ever again. They carry the burden of being the messenger long after they walk out of the grieving parents' home.
People like Envoy Dan Williams at the Salvation Army. He wearily calculates his resources as he looks out and sees the line outside the shelter grow longer each day. He works tirelessly to have a hot meal and an encouraging word for the thousands of men, women and children who cross his path each year. He balances the books, inspires the staff and fills the pantry at the same time he is finding ways to help someone give up drugs or the bottle.
People like my sister Ann Piombo, a nurse who, along with her fellow nurses and doctors in emergency rooms and pediatric departments across the county, deal with the results of a violent and uncaring society each and every night.
People like James Angel, a single parent who battles exhaustion working full time while trying to lovingly be both father and mother to his young children. Some parents are single by choice, others because of tragedy. They agonizingly leave their children in the care of others while praying to heaven above the little ones will be safe until the family is reunited at the end of the day. Single parents worry about making ends meet, what happens if their child gets sick, who will get the kids to baseball practice, if they have enough clean clothes, if there is food in the refrigerator and who or what is influencing their children. They do their absolute best but still worry they are not doing enough.
Heroes are the child protective services and adult protective service workers who go into dark filthy homes every day to confront people who know they might be there to take their children or their independence from them.
They are the deputy district attorneys who continue to walk into courtrooms every morning even though they and their family members have been threatened by friends of the murderers they prosecute.
They are the people at the child advocacy center who interview young victims of unspeakable crimes knowing full well the experience might have life altering consequences for everyone involved.
The heroes that cops come across each day share one more trait. They are weary. Whether it's emotionally, physically or spiritually, or a combination of the three, they are just beat. You won't hear them complain about it, they rarely mention it, and they just work through it.
Some of their experiences cause them to lie awake in the middle of the night, thinking about things most people could not bear. But they still get up and head out to face the challenges each morning. They quietly and unselfishly put the needs of others ahead of their own each and every day. Just like Rick Cromwell.
Because that's what heroes do.