BELLEVILLE — Police personnel from all over converged on the St. Clair County Jail grounds on Wednesday to memorialize the lives of members of the police family who lost their lives in the line of duty.
It was a beautiful, somber, powerful occasion some said as they listened to the bugler belt out "Taps" and the bag pipe players, play "Amazing Grace". The rifle salute began as they listened to the names of the fallen police officers being read aloud and watched members of the military, police officers and family members carry a candle to the memorial wall.
The individuals, after placing the red glass vase that housed the candle on a table, stood in front of the memorial wall a second or two and then saluted it and returned to their seats.
Kalidah Jonas-Carraway said it was her first time attending the memorial service at the St. Clair County Jail that was started 32 years ago. Her father, Greg Jonas, was a beloved, well-respected Centreville policeman. He was killed in the line of duty five years ago.
Jonas-Carraway said she knows her father was looking down on the ceremony from heaven. "He's proud that I am standing beside him," she said.
"He loved law enforcement. It was his life. He had been in it ever since I can remember. When I was born 33 years ago, he was involved in law enforcement."
Asked what she would say to the person who murdered her father if she could, Jonas- Carraway said, "I would ask him why."
She said the "end of watch" call where the officers' badge number is called and they respond is forever etched in her mind. That awful day when her dad's number was called and he didn't answer is a tough memory for her, she said.
"People don't know how they change others' lives with their senseless acts of violence. My father was taken away from his family and friends and the community he loved. For us, things can never be the same. He can't see his grandchildren, Antonio Harris,13, and JaKayla Carraway, 1-years-old, grow up or do other family things. He didn't just die a natural death. Someone took his life while he was being a public servant -- protecting and serving others," Jonas Carroway said.
Fairview Heights Police Chief Nick Gailius told the audience that it's critical that we remember what real service looks like.
"Police officers are sons, daughters, father's mother's , husbands and wives. Every day and every night they leave home and go about their normal activities. There is always that horrible possibility that the officer's life can be taken at any moment. Their deaths serve to remind us of love, and true service above self," Gailius said.
Key note speaker, the Rev. Kendall Granger, pastor of New Life Community Church in East St.. Louis, spoke to the audience about "Remembering What Matters Most."
"The Best of life is love. Let love be your highest goal. The best expression of love is time. We must show love through actions that are sincere. The best time to love is now. Use every chance you have to do good," Granger said.
He told the crowd they should not dwell on material things because when it is time for them to leave this Earth the material wealth they have amassed will be left behind.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Walter Brandon Jr. was in the audience. He said his father, Walter Brandon Sr., was a former East St. Louis police officer who retired as a lieutenant in the 1990s.
He said he often asked his father why he worked so hard when he was only making a little money. His father told him, "Somebody's got to do it."
"He gave me the impetus to do what I am doing. He always wanted to serve. He loved serving the community," Brandon recalled with a smile.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said former Sheriff Mearl Justus started the memorial 32 years ago so those who paid the ultimate price would never be forgotten. "And they are not forgotten.That's why we are here today," Watson said.
Sauget Police Chief Patrick Delaney called the memorial "phenomenal."
"It makes you proud to be a police officer. This is what it's all about," he said.
Delaney's father, Terry Delaney, a former U.S. marshall and a former Belleville police chief, has been in law enforcement for 54 years. He currently works for U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton.
"I have been very fortunate," Terry Delaney said. He said the fallen officers paid the ultimate price, and their lives and work should forever be remembered by the community they served.