Saturday, September 05, 2015

On 9-11, let's remember there are heroes all around us.

Heroes are all around us.
They have names like Clint and Paul and Jake and Todd and Harvey and Sue and Mary. 
We can't bring back those brave men and women who perished on Sept. 11, 2001 but we can honor those around us who sacrifice so much to serve us. 
My first close encounter with a hero came when i was very young, shortly after I was born really. 
My first hero was Glen Zellers Jr. 
“Junie” as his mother called him, was my cousin. He was about 20 years my senior and his children were close to my age. 
I remember marveling as he let his children swing from one of his upraise, muscled arms like it was a jungle gym. 
His photo hung in my aunt’s living room. He never talked about it but he was in the Navy during  World War II and he got to see Japan after the U.S. ended the war.
To me, he was the face of the American hero. 
Many of my heroes, growing up, were police officers. 
I met Oscar Strasser when I was younger than 5. He probably knew me from the time I was an infant.
Mr. Strasser was a retired police officer who owned tge grocery store to supplement his income, I was told.
Strasser’s grocery store was near the Winamac bridge over the Tippecanoe River and about five blocks from Grandpa’s house on Riverside Drive. Every summer, Mom and I would visit Grandpa for a few days. I don’t recall Mom ever shopping at a “supermarket” and I’m pretty sure none existed in Winamac in the late ‘50s, but we walked down to Strasser’s store many times, which I remember was quite a hike for my short legs. 
I have looked upon the police as my friends from a young age when an officer stopped to ask me name while I was riding my bike on the sidewalk near home. 
I got my first bike with training wheels for my sixth birthday. 
There weren’t many places I could ride, so I went about half a block down Barrett Street, past the driveways of two houses and would ride down the sidewalk to Grant Street and back. Later I was allowed to ride in the street but not the summer I got the bike. 
My first encounter with a policeman in uniform came during those sidewalk rides. He pulled over to the curb while I was resting and asked my name. I guess we chatted for a few minutes but all I saw was his car, blue shirt, badge and I could imagine the gun strapped to his side.  
My dad loved to watch “The Untouchables” and other cop shows, so I thought I was in trouble. I think I left my bike setting on the sidewalk and ran home to tell Mom about my close encounter. 
“Stranger Danger” is not a new concept. We were told to not speak to strangers back in those Dark Ages when Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty and I were in elementary school.
I was drinking a pop outside Westside Store a year or so later when an old man sitting in an ominous black car called me to him. 
Instead, I ran in the store and told Mom. 
She called the police when we got home and the officer found out who the man was and assured us he was friendly but harmless. 
The teenage girls who lived next door got in trouble with different police, the kind who worked for the railroad. The girls had been running across the pair of tracks next to their house when trains were coming and apparently scared the engineer, nearly giving him a heart attack, we later learned through Dad’s contacts on the railroad. 
The railroad detective who came to our house to see if I had been running across the tracks quickly learned I would have gotten a good switching by my folks, then my grandpa and then my folks again. Grandpa Phillips and Dad were both railroad men who wouldn’t put up with such dangerous nonsense from their kids. 
When I became a reporter, I worked with police and firefighters on a regular basis. 
Dennis Weir is a great guy and was very helpful when he served as a fire chief. Often, he would give too much information. You could ask him who owned the house where a fire occurred and he would tell you all about the fire, what kind it was, how it differed from other kids of fire and often we didn’t have room to print all the information he gave us. 
The Bennetts, Joe and Jake, have been very good friends of everyone who look to the media for information. 
Earl Hutcheson was general manager of The Brazil Times when I arrived in 2001. He has been an active member and leader of the Posey Towsnhip Fire Department. Earl taught me the importance of fire stories to our readers and that those pictures and stories help when fire departments seek grants for equipment that is so important to their work. 
A police officer I’m proud to know I met when he was still a rookie. 
I can still hear one of the other officers yell at him in 1994, “Noor-maan!” 
Mike Norman was not only a nice guy but he built a good career for himself in the police department. Today he has risen to the office of police chief in Crawfordsville. 
One of the police officers with whom I worked caught me speeding on the outskirts of town one day. He was all serious as he approached my car after pulling me over. 
"May I see your license and registration?"
“Yes sir.” 
He ran my information and then handed my documents back to me. 
“Slow down and be safe, Mr. Phillips,” he said. He never called me “Mr.Phillips” in the more than a decade I knew him. It was always, “Frank” with a smile. 
“Yes sir. Thank you.” 
I waited to let him pull out ahead of me. 
As he drove by he gave me a big grin and a salute!
Finally, I want to tell you about Harvey. 
Harvey pulled me over more than once for speeding in town. 
On one occasion, my wife was with me. 
“Where you goin’ Frank? To a fire?"
“No sir, just got a little heavy on the pedal.” 
“Well slow down. We don’t want to lose you.” 
“Thank you.” 
When I rolled up my window, Linda got agitated. 
“You never get a ticket,” she exclaimed. “Give him a ticket! Give him a ticket!"” 
Though I did get one or two tickets on other occasions, none came from Harvey. 
He had a son who was a fireman. His son rose through the ranks to become fire chief. 
Harvey’s son is now a mayor. 
It's a terrible thing that Sept. 11 is marked in blood and smoke in our memories but it does give us the chance to say Thank you to the heroes who are still among us.