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Honor from a stranger

Four years ago, my unceremonious retirement from police work was transformed by an act of kindness from a fellow cop

Grunge black USA flag with blue stripe background

Grunge black USA flag with blue stripe background

saicle/Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Victor Letonoff

Memorial Day weekend in our beach resort marks the start of summer and for me, the anniversary of when I retired, four years ago.

Each May I think of that last day of work as a full-time officer. I left without pomp or celebration, going out with a whimper, or more like a soft squeeze of a whoopee cushion.

May 19, 2020, was still in the deep dark days of the pandemic fear and hysteria. The afternoon was bleak, a battleship-grey world, the wind blustery, the air cold for that late in the season. It seemed as if every day since early March was a mimeograph of the same grey chill.

My last shift was from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It was a quiet one with few calls for service as we were still limiting our responses to priority in-progress complaints.

As my shift came to an end, I typed up my final shift commander’s report and e-mailed it to the department. I strolled down to the locker room and changed into civilian clothes, leaving all my issued equipment in the locker. The incoming shift filtered in. I shook a couple of hands and patted a back or two. I walked into my office, looked around one last time, hit the time clock and left the building. No cheering, no retirement party, no years-of-service plaque. Just another day and I left. I won’t lie. It was a depressing exit from what I believed to be a rewarding career.

Outside the building, my wife was parked. For years she made it a point when she could to drive and pick me up from work — a special gift she had given me and one I will cherish for the rest of my life: her lovely face being the first and last I would see that was not a part of my police world.

And so, there she stood, shivering, her golden hair disheveled by the strong wind, along with my best friend Kent and another man — a stranger, large and burly. He was smiling and swinging an oversized “Thin Blue Line” flag back and forth.

“Congratulations,” he shouted.

“Who is this guy?” I wondered.

And then he saluted me. He was a retired cop from Jersey who’d heard from a friend of a friend that this day was my last. He came to wish me well.

That moment, that care, that old cop’s time and effort to come out in the cold and acknowledge all those years of service turned my uneventful, dismal little “farewell to arms” into an exceptional footnote. It was a moment of extraordinary and unusual happiness.

On this Memorial Day, as I pay my respects to those in our armed forces who died in battle for our country, I can’t help but reflect on the honor I was given by one of my own brothers in arms. Never mind that we didn’t know one another; our bond was forged through our universal experiences as cops. In that sense, we were never strangers.

About the author

After 21 years of police service, Victor Letonoff retired in 2020 from the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, where he worked since 2002. During the last decade, he has been writing about his work as a police officer. His first published, essay, “Suicide by Cop” appeared in the July 2013 issue of “Delaware Today” and went on to win first place for a feature article from the Delaware Press Association and second place for a feature article from the National Federation of Press Women. His second published article, “Answering the Call,” was published in the April 2014 issue of “Delaware Beach Life” and received a 2015 International Regional Magazine Association Award of Merit in the “Public Issues” category for all circulation divisions. Victor is currently seeking representation for his book, “Letters to a Young Cop — and Those Who Love Him, Those Who Fear Him.” Read more at https://www.victorletonoff.com/.

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