The Long Blue Line. Moments of stone-cold silence that give way to tears and hugs, solemn words and fond remembrances. Funny little anecdotes about the fallen officer that he himself would have been telling just a week or so ago.
Then, the long, slow procession to the cemetery for burial. Taps. The 21-gun salute. More tears and more hugs.
Indeed, there is a protocol for blue funerals, tributes to those killed in the line of duty. To experience one is to experience one too many because they mean officers who dedicated their lives to protecting us were killed doing so.
Tuesday, family, friends and officers from far and wide will say goodbye to Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace, shot to death Nov. 13 while investigating a reported stolen vehicle at the Fox Grove Fishing Access near Hughson. He became the 11th California officer killed in 2016, and 44th nationally. Four more senseless deaths have followed, including a San Antonio police officer and a U.S. marshal, both of whom also were shot to death.
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Sadly, Tuesday’s ceremony follows an oft-repeated script. It’s the region’s eighth such service since early 2004, when Merced police Officer Stephan Gray was gunned down by a known gang member during a routine traffic stop. That same year, Tuolumne County sheriff’s Deputy David Grant died in an auto accident while responding to a small airplane crash near Columbia.
In 2005, Ceres police Sgt. Howie Stevenson died in an ambush by a former Marine linked to a Norteño street gang. A year after that, California Highway Patrolman Earl Scott was shot to death while making a traffic stop on Highway 99 in Salida.
In 2009, we bid adieu to Modesto police Sgt. Steve May, who lived nearly seven full years in a coma after an auto thief crashed a stolen pickup into May’s patrol car in the Airport neighborhood. May’s wife, Diana, visited him nearly every day until he passed.
In 2012, Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Bob Paris, along with locksmith Glendon Engert, died in a hail of gunfire by a deranged tenant when they went to evict him from a Modesto housing complex.
Stockton police Officer Scott Hewell died in a 2014 auto accident.
In all four counties combined – Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Tuolumne and Merced – 42 officers have perished in the line of duty since the 1850s. And while the number represents only a small portion of the 1,615 who died serving since California became a state, their deaths are never any easier to accept. Senseless, coldblooded violence in most cases, tragic accidents in others.
They are remembered on fallen officer monuments in various places. Stretches of state highways bear the names of Grant and Scott. Ceres dedicated its Whitmore Highway 99 overpass and also its Riverfront Regional Park to honor Stevenson. A benefit fund and golf tournament keep Gray’s memory alive in Merced.
It’s highly likely that Wallace’s name, too, soon will grace a public place in Hughson, where he was involved in youth sports programs, the DARE anti-drug campaign and many other things. He was instrumental in getting the town’s soccer complex built. City Manager Raul Mendez said that within days of Wallace’s death, area residents began contacting both city and local school district officials suggesting ways to honor him.
“We’ll consider taking that up after the service,” Mendez said, adding that Hughson officials would want the family to be involved in the process.
Tuesday, though, Wallace will be remembered as a trusted friend, a dedicated deputy and a man who made a profound impact on their lives.
Like the others, he deserves the hero’s sendoff. And like those before him, he never should have needed it.
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The funeral begins at 11 a.m. Tuesday at CrossPoint Community Church at 1301 12th St. in Modesto. Burial will follow at Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson.