Last Saturday, I was among the thousands of people who attended the memorial service for Corporal Singh in Modesto. We will never know why we live in a world where he never returned to the Newman Police Department on December 26, 2017. Corporal Singh has joined the company of many others that we know too well. Girl’s basketball in Vallejo is missing Officer Capoot as a coach. We will not see Patrolman Griess pull onto Highway 80. I will not see Detective Armenta enjoying his retirement in my town, Benicia. It is not easy to look around at the world in which we live. We don’t see our lives as they are. We don’t know why we want to hide from what we see.
Yet, we know some things. We know that with their last steps, those officers did everything they could to make our world a better place. We know that every act we take should be partnered with the great dedication they have shown us. We know that any act we take only pales beside what they have done for us. We know that these officers took a step into a world that none of us want. The passing of each officer marks another day in which we are stumbling farther away from the world we want. We also know that other generations sacrificed. Yet, our soldiers in World War Two returned to a home they wanted.
When I returned home from Corporal Singh’s service, I stopped in Santa Nella to see an old friend of mine from Benicia. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bruggman is resting with 30,000 other veterans in the San Joaquin National Cemetery. In 1942, Joe was 25. His pilots were boys. In North Africa, Joe had waited at the end of the tarmac, waiting to bring his planes into sight with his binoculars. He was always the first to sight them in the distance. Joe and his ground crew stood by with the hope that all of the planes would return and land safely. There are always many questions. Why did most pilots return and others did not? Did Joe standing by with his binoculars bring about the safe landing of the many that did return? These questions always arise. We will never find the answers with reason. My uncle Woody landed in Normandy on the fourth day after D-Day. His tank was among those that broke through the front line under our adversary’s guns. Some of his commanders could not celebrate that advance. I met Frank Byrd at the Vallejo Ferry Terminal the other day. In 1944, he left Port Chicago in a convoy of three Victory ships laden with ammunition and rushing to the front line in the Pacific. Frank stood on board the Bernard Victory and saw his two sister ships torpedoed. The ships, their crews and their captains were lost without a trace. We cannot know why Joe, Woody and Frank returned and others did not. We do know that all of them returned to a world that they wanted as home. Joe lived to be 100. He was a deacon, a college instructor, and a musician. Woody worked at Electric Boat, practiced his trade as carpet layer, and retired to his hometown. The last time I saw him, Frank was enjoying a day with his family and had retired to Yountville.
Joe lived to the age of 99. Every day of his life, he had his binoculars beside him. I’m certain that when he sighted to the far horizon in North Africa, he was looking for the day when no one will have to sacrifice in the way these officers have. If, with every act, we can hold these men and what they stood for in our hearts, then that day will come.
If we have the faith that we are able to make our world better, it will become better. These officers died to make our world one that all of us desire. Their spirit will always remain with us. Together, we will create that world.