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I got goose bumps every time I heard those two words Saturday during Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony Rakes' funeral.
Anytime an officer referred to Deputy Rakes, he or she wouldn't say his name. Instead, they would say, "the hero."
It was incredibly poignant. And it was just one of the extremely moving moments I had the honor of witnessing during Rakes' funeral. It's a day I will never forget. It's a day that I felt so much sadness for my community, but at the same time, I felt so much love for my small town.
From the moment I arrived at Marion County High School and saw the massive American flag hanging proudly at the school's entrance, my heart swelled up with pride. I was in awe of the number of Patriot Guard Riders, law enforcement officers and emergency personnel from all over the state and beyond who came to pay their respects to Deputy Rakes. It was truly an amazing and humbling sight.
Deputy Rakes' funeral is the third officer funeral I have covered during the 10 years I've been at The Lebanon Enterprise. And, with every officer funeral, I'm reminded of the brotherhood that is shared among law enforcement officials. It's truly a beautiful thing to behold. And, it's incredibly unique. I've never seen anything quite like it.
I've also grown to better understand the pledge law enforcement officers make to serve the public and put their lives on the line daily. "Big city" officers and "small town" officers make the same pledge. They both face the same dangers, and their lives can be taken in an instant. Often times, I think we overlook the dangers that even our "small town" officers face. Let this be a lesson to all of us. An officer's job is never without danger. What happened to Deputy Anthony Rakes is a perfect example.
And, when officers pass away, whether from circumstances in the line of duty or otherwise, their funerals reflect honor and respect for their service and dedication. Witnessing such an event is quite an experience. For me, it has truly been a privilege.
One tradition that I find extremely moving is the 24/7 watch of the officer's casket. Officers stay with the body around the clock until the funeral. The duty of the officers on casket watch is to stand vigil during the wake or viewing. Saturday, a team of two officers were on watch for 15-minutes at a time, one at the head and one at the foot of the casket. A second team relieved them every 15 minutes. As the teams relieved each other from their watch, the entire gymnasium would stand and, I swear, you could hear a pin drop. It was truly touching.
Another incredibly touching moment was when Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Clements spoke during the funeral. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult that must have been for him. But, with tears in his eyes, his voice shaking, he spoke from his heart and, in a way, he spoke for all of Marion County.
And, as my news editor and I drove to the cemetery, I couldn't help but smile at the people standing by the roadside, with flags waving, preparing to pay their respects and say goodbye to Deputy Rakes.
Waiting for the funeral procession to arrive at the cemetery, I was so impressed with the officers, honor guards and Patriot Guard Riders who literally rehearsed and practiced their salutes, their stances and their formations. They wanted Deputy Rakes' final sendoff to be perfect.
And it was.
When the funeral procession finally arrived, the bagpipes and drummers escorted the hearse into the cemetery. Also leading the hearse was a riderless horse. On the horse was a saddle, which was placed backwards, with boots reversed in the stirrups. The riderless horse stands among the highest honors for the fallen. Often referred to as the "cap horse," the boots facing backward in the stirrups symbolize that the fallen won't ride again and the rider is looking back on his family one last time.
From the three-round volley, to the presentation of the flags to Rakes' sisters and the playing of Taps... the entire ceremony was flawless.
And, as a final goodbye, there was one "last call" on the radio, which could be heard from Rakes' very own squad car parked alongside his gravesite. The last call was an incredibly emotional moment for Rakes' sisters. They broke down, sobbing, and it was at that moment that I stopped taking photos. I put my camera down, bowed my head, and I listened to his last call as his sisters wept.
I wept with them.
Because, as my friend Ollie Wicker said so eloquently, this is not a story for me... It's an experience.
It's about one of my fellow Marion Countians.
It's about my community.
It's about my home.
A home I love now more than ever.