Living with the sacrifice: Chicago honors injured officers

The Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, and White Sox raised $50,000 of the $250,000 needed to construct a tribute to injured and disabled officers

On the Chicago lakefront east of Soldier Field sits a uniformed police officer in a wheelchair. His uniform hat placed on top the blanket spread across his lap. Behind him stands his wife, holding their toddler, and their young son with his arms wrapped devotedly around his father’s neck.

The vigilant partner rests his hand on the injured officer’s shoulder as a sign of support and comfort.

The officer sits near a wall inscribed with the words “We Shall Never Forget.”

Real People, Real Sacrifice
Commissioned by the Chicago Memorial Foundation as a tribute to injured and disabled officers and their families these bronze, life-like sculptures represent real people.

The statue comes close to depicting Cedric Brumley’s family after the August 2002 patrol car accident that left him confined to a wheelchair. His daughter was 15 months old and his son only six at the time of the accident.

Cedric was rushing to the scene of a shots fired call for assistance, light bar blazing, siren screaming. Another officer, also en route to the call, smashed into Cedric’s police car, changing Cedric’s and his family’s life forever.

In the sculpture, the wife stands behind the wheelchair, holding a baby, as a tribute to the spouses who have become the caretaker of their injured officers while struggling to raise children and maintain a household in the wake of tragedy.

The young son’s arms draped around his father’s neck holds many interpretations: love, respect, worship. The boy is also holding on to what used to be. Holding on to the life he had before the injury, having a father who was a police officer, a softball coach, and a fishing buddy.

Behind the officer in the wheelchair stands his partner with a hand on the injured officer’s shoulder signifying the support of the foundation and fellow officers.

The statue also depicts the life of Denise Domagala and her three sons. In July 1988, Denise’s husband Bernie went to work and never came home.

Bernie was assigned to Chicago Police Department’s Hostage, Barricade, and Terrorist Unit. Responding to a hostage situation in progress, Bernie sustained a bullet wound to the forehead that changed his life and his family’s forever. He requires round the clock care and lives in a facility, miles from home, that specializes in traumatic brain injuries.

Bernie’s injury left Denise to raise the couple’s three boys alone and to manage Bernie’s ongoing health issues. Four months before the shooting, Denise had given birth to twins. Her eldest son, four years old at the time of the shooting, dreams of becoming a police officer so he can complete the career that meant so much to his father.

Everyday Bernie wears a Chicago Police Memorial Foundation baseball cap to show pride in his past career and to remind others that he was a police officer. That’s how important maintaining his identity as a police officer is to Bernie.

In the sculpture, the boy wears just such a baseball cap to honor the work of the foundation and to express how desperately injured officers want to maintain their police identity.

“The officer in the wheelchair had to be in uniform,” Denise Domagala explained. “Being a police officer huge part of their lives.”

Cedric Brumley and Denise Domagala served on the committee that designed the statue along with Jim Mullen, Densey Cole, and Andre Van Vegten.

Added to Chicago’s Gold Star Families and Memorial Park in September 2010, the one-of-a-kind statue becomes the first such honorarium to injured officers.

Near the park’s memorial, containing the names of Chicago’s finest who gave their lives in the line of duty, the foundation already had erected a Living Sacrifice wall that bears the inscription:

Living with the Sacrifice
Dedicated to those officers who have suffered catastrophic injuries in the line of duty and the families who have known and shared their tragedy, the foundation decided to expand the living sacrifice wall with the addition of a statue.

“We felt it was time to establish a physical, tangible tribute to remind everyone of the sacrifice they have made for all of us,” Phil Cline, former Chicago Police Superintendent and current Executive Director of the Chicago Memorial Foundation,

Initial funding and support for the statue came from others who wear a Chicago uniform: The Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, and White Sox raised $50,000 of the $250,000 needed to construct the statue. 

Artists Julie Rotblatt and Omri Amrany sculpted the bronze, bas relief and steel statue from the emotions and experiences of the design committee.

Jim Mullen said that serving on the committee and working with the artists was a moving experience and that the statue and the park were all about duty and sacrifice.

Jim knows about duty and sacrifice. He responded to a man with a gun call in 1996 and sustained a .357 slug to his jaw that severed his spine leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and permanently dependent on a ventilator.

Jim struggles to put into words what the statue means to him. 

“I think about other disabled police officers and how they are getting by dealing with their injuries. I think of all the children of these officers and how their lives have changed so drastically because their mothers and fathers were doing the right thing.”

Jim remembers the night of the statue’s unveiling and “how proud we were to be recognized for our sacrifice.”

“The memorial lets us know we are not forgotten,” Cedric said.

“The artists captured what we felt,” Denise said. “I look at the statue and see beyond the sculptures. I see the thousands of officers who remember Bernie’s sacrifice. It means a lot to know they care what happened to their fellow officer and remember every day those who were catastrophically injured and not fortunate enough to go back on the job.”

Denise added that the statue lets her sons know they belong to a bigger family--a family of police. “My sons can see that people care about what happens to Bernie and his family. It’s great for them to see their dad honored like this.”

“We are grateful to the Chicago Memorial Foundation for this everlasting tribute, for never forgetting, and for being in our lives,” Denise said.

Cedric agreed. His daughter doesn’t remember him going to work in uniform or as a six-foot-two-inch man being able to stand up. The statue allows her to understand what her father did as an officer and why his injury occurred. Cedric’s daughter brought him to tears when he heard her tell a friend, “My daddy was a police officer. He’s a hero.”

Jim Mullen added, “I hope this doesn’t come off as strange, but I would really like to be buried there or at least have some of my ashes spread around the grounds.”

The statue ensures that injured officers, and the sacrifice they made protecting the citizens of Chicago, will always be remembered.

More information on the statue and the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation can be found here.

A WGN-TV news story about the statue featuring Denise, Cedric, and Jim can be viewed here

Police1 applauds the Chicago Memorial Foundation for creating a lasting honorarium to injured and disabled officers.

Let’s follow their lead. 

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