My grandfather died in 2007 after a very long battle with prostate cancer. For more than 30 years he had been active with the volunteer fire department where I grew up, serving as its chief for about three decades. He also was the secretary and treasurer for the state and county firefighters associations. The day of his funeral, a flood of firefighters entered the church – we had anticipated quite a crowd, so had arranged to have the service in the church as opposed to the funeral home. We had no idea just how many people would attend. Firefighters from across the state poured in to pay their last respects. And the Firefighter Honor Guard, which my grandfather helped established many years ago, carried in flags and paid tribute.
Everyone in my family had goose bumps. There were at least 250 firefighters there, dressed in their uniforms. The firefighters lifted my grandfather’s coffin from the front of the church and carried it, overhead, down the center isle and loaded the casket into a fire truck that had been parked outside. My grandfather went on his last fire call that day, with the siren sounding as the truck he was in was followed by some other fire trucks and his brothers and sisters in fire service. They followed him all the way to the burial site. Some individuals from the Illinois Firefighters Association, who had been close to my grandfather, spoke at the burial site. Their words were so moving and touching. It was the most beautiful service I have ever attended, and unfortunately, I’ve attended many funerals.
What I will always remember most about that day are the kind words from all those who attended. They all knew my grandfather – the rookies, the veterans, the retirees – and he touched each and every one of their lives in some way. I knew he was special. Hearing that from those brave men and women, and knowing that they valued him so much meant the world to my family and me.
The firefighters organized the tribute, departure and speaking portion of the service. Our family knew they had planned to do something special to honor him, but we had no idea that this touching display would take place. We were all in tears. It was such a moving and beautiful experience: One that I will never forget. It still brings tears to my eyes.