They held hands for the entire drive, letting go only to wipe away tears and wave at the thousands of supporters along the streets.
More than 2,000 law enforcement and fire vehicles filed in line for a four-hour procession from McChord Air Force Base to the Tacoma Dome, with supporters waving flags, offering prayers and saying “Thank you” all along the way.
In the middle of the procession was Pierce County sheriff’s deputy Heath Page, driving with his wife, Julie, in a patrol SUV.
Like officers in the procession, they waved and thanked the strangers who stood in the bitter cold to honor the four Lakewood police officers whose memorial service was to be held miles away.
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“I’ve had a lump in my throat ever since we left McChord,” Heath said, steering the SUV between the American flags and people holding home-made signs along South Tacoma Way.
The view from inside the vehicles was people of all ages, some with their hands over their hearts, others holding salutes. They huddled under blankets. They held children. They clutched candles and signs.
One large sign read, “In honor of our everyday heroes.”
“In this type of tragedy, these officers need this,” Julie said, clutching a tissue in one hand and her husband’s hand in the other. “It makes a difference.”
What stood out was the preparedness, Heath said. Those who brought flags and prepared signs. They didn’t just happen upon the procession, he noted, they took time to come and show their respect.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a sad time, but it’s hard to not feel a little warmth in your heart.”
The day began with the thousands of vehicles lining up at McChord, forming a sea of flashing blue and red lights in the frigid morning air.
The vehicles bore the names of departments from across Western Washington, the Northwest and Canada. Montana, California, even Wyoming were represented among the 370 agencies in the procession.
The drivers and passengers shared coffee and looked over the route in a sprawling airplane hangar. Some officers knew each other, others introduced themselves.
“These are my brothers and sisters. This is my family,” Heath said. “We are all connected.”
Like Heath, many had wanted to be cops since they were kids. In his case, since he was 5. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army at Fort Lewis, he joined the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Nearly 11 years later, he still loves going out on patrol.
He and Julie have been married for 14 years.
For her, the first few years of Heath’s career were nerve-racking. She couldn’t help but focus on the dangers, calling him if he was even a minute late.
But after time, she learned to trust in him, the department and his training.
For Heath, the reality of danger is always there. But to do his job, he puts it in the back of his mind.
But, for both, that last Sunday in November again reminds them of the dangers of the job, and it reminded the community what officers face.
“It’s awesome that people are recognizing that they do put their lives on the line,” Julie said of her husband and his colleagues, “and it’s nice that they are there to show their support.”
Brian Everstine: 253-597-8374