The occasion was the Vail Valley Public Safety Personnel Memorial Service, the day before the second anniversary of Vail Police Officer Ryan Cunningham’s death while working a traffic accident in the dark on I-70. With a truck bearing down on the slick scene, Cunningham shouted a warning and hopped the concrete barricade – 60 feet to eternity. He was on a bridge.
The families of Cunningham and two of the three others who died on duty in Eagle County joined the service.
Sheriff Joe Hoy presented flowers to the family of John Fletcher Clark, the undersheriff who died of a gunshot wound July 12, 1961, while manning a roadblock to stop a man who had shot three other officers in Routt County, killing one. Hoy also spoke of Deputy Oscar William Meyer, killed in a gun battle Nov. 2, 1937.
Ten years is still too fresh for Gypsum Fire Chief to remember losing firefighter Cruz Carbajal, who died of a brain aneurysm on Jan. 4 during a busy shift. The chief kept his remarks, though not his emotions, to a minimum before bringing flowers to his late friend’s family.
Glibness is not a hallmark of the grunts on the front lines of emergency services. These are plainspoken, steady folk, exactly the kind of people you want guarding your back. They are always there, just a 911 call away.
The Rev. Carl Walker said as much during his remarks, observing how fortunate we are to be able to take our police, firefighters and other emergency personnel for granted. Try living in Iraq about now.
Another 9/11 was close to mind in this service. One speaker, Lt. Col. Joel Best, head of the high altitude helicopter pilot training facility at the Eagle County airport, watched the plane that struck the Pentagon that Sept. 11. Avon Mayor Buz Reynolds, of New York firefighter stock, spoke of losing six firefighters and one policeman, family and friends, at the World Trade Towers.
Clearly, the service took on a meaning well beyond the four Eagle County men who paid the ultimate price of their work.
People in the pews remembered other fallen friends and family who have made this sacrifice. Those in uniform understand all too well that their calling can be dangerous. The congregation, a stoic bunch this Monday afternoon, joined in an unspoken prayer that there would be no more lives in this county taken in the line of duty.
Then, after Taps had finished and they’d reflected, the spell broke and life awaited beyond the doors. The organizers did well to let the families know their loved ones were remembered. D.R.
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