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Walking for Others

Geodoc

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2018 (across Pyrenees, then Sarria to SdC), CF 2019 (SJPdP to Finisterra & Muxia), CI 2019
Last summer, I had the honor to walk the Camino, both for myself and for others.

From SJPdP to SdC, I walked on behalf of my father, dead at the age of 45 from cancer, and on behalf of 15 law enforcement officers who were either killed in the line of duty or died as a result of injuries/PTSD incurred in the line of duty. I personally knew four of those officers, one of whom was killed while I was on duty. Some of you may have seen me, walking with a small laminated Thin Blue Line flag strapped to the outside of my pack. In my pack I carried 15 laminated Thin Blue Line flags, each the size of a note card.

TBL flag.jpg

When I arrived at the Cathedral of St. James, I lit a candle for each of the officers. Upon lighting the candle, I would set the flag I had made up for that officer down in front of the candle and mention their name. At the end, there were 15 candles lit and 15 flags resting in front of them. I took a quick picture with my cell phone, then put the cards away, ensuring they were in the order laid down.

TBL candles.jpg

For my father, I received the Compostela In Vicario Pro.

Upon completing the CF, I continued on to Finisterra and Muxia, then was joined by my wife and our youngest daughter, and proceeded to complete the Camino Ingles. Upon that completion, I obtained a Compostela In Vicario Pro my 81 year old mother.

Upon my return to Washington, I had 15 photos printed of the picture I had taken of the flags. On the back of the flags I wrote a brief statement about the journey on behalf of that particular officer. The photos, the flags, and letters describing the journey and the importance of the Camino were sent to the survivors of those officers. I also described which candle was lit for that particular officer (eg., the top row, first candle from the left was lit for Charlie Hill, the aforementioned officer I knew killed on my shift).

The two compostelas were sent to my mother. She was aware I was on the Camino, but not aware that I was walking on her behalf. I, of course, kept the Certificate of Distance :)

Needless to say, the simple action I took to walk on other's behalf meant a lot to a lot of people. As you plan your own Camino, consider taking others with you on the journey. You never know what impact it will have and how much it might help them.
 
Last edited:

Bala

Veteran member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
What a beautiful tribute to all those you walked to remember. Thank you for sharing this with us.
 

Geodoc

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2018 (across Pyrenees, then Sarria to SdC), CF 2019 (SJPdP to Finisterra & Muxia), CI 2019
Here's what I posted on the Facebook page of my old department:

The journey started with a walk in the clouds. Up I went, barely seeing more than 50 feet in front of me. The next morning, the skies had cleared and the view from atop the Pyrenees Mountains was a wondrous one.

Beginning in the small French village of Saint Jean Pied de Port, I made the journey by foot to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, a pilgrimage by foot of almost 800 kilometers. At times, I walked above the clouds, cold winds chilling me despite numerous layers. Other times, I walked alone for days on end, the only shade being that offered by my hat. The only breeze being that of my body passing through the air. Temperatures exceeded 107 degrees, but still I walked on. Despite blisters and bedbugs, I walked on.

Along The Way, I carried the memory of fifteen law enforcement officers, many of whom I never met. I carried those memories for my friends and former co-workers from the Alexandria Police Department. Most of the officers had worked in Alexandria. Some had worked in Washington, DC. Others had worked for the National Park Service, another organization I had worked law enforcement for. Of those names, I was honored to have known four of them. I walked for them. All of them.

People would ask about the flag I carried strapped to the back of my pack. A small, laminated American flag held to my pack by a lanyard. Black and white stripes where there should be red and white. A blue stripe in the middle. A black and white field of stars instead of one of traditional red and white. A flag representing the Thin Blue Line. The flag had the names of those 15 officers, along with their departments and End of Watch dates. I would explain it to those who asked. Sometimes, in my halting Spanish, I would have to explain about the concept of “la delgada línea azul.” At one point, I walked The Way with a Spanish Police Officer, he respectful.

Atop the highest point of the Camino, I lay a rock down, under an iron cross, the sun still below the horizon with the promise of a new day painting the sky pink. It was at the start of my 29th day of walking. A distance of over 500 kilometers.

The rock represented a burden, one I have carried with me since March of 1989. The burden was that of survivor guilt. I’m sure all of the other officers working Division Three, Sector One that day carries the same burden. “If only I could have done something.” “Had I broken from that stupid HOV detail instead of asking permission and getting denied, maybe I could have stopped it.”

The burden was real. The rock was real. The rock represented the burden, one that should be left under the iron cross. I stood atop a pile of hundreds of thousands of rocks under the cross. Hundreds of thousands of other people’s burdens.

As I stood there, I remembered the call all cops hate to hear, “Officer Down.” I remembered that gut-dropping feeling that I felt that day.

I remembered Charlene Bartlett being called by dispatch to report to the station, knowing that Jamie Bartlett was on the call. I remembered passing Charlene on my way to a call on the West End, she wiping tears from her eyes. I wondered how she was able to see. A few seconds later, dispatch advising her that her husband was okay. I can’t even imagine what she was going through at that time.

I lay the rock down.

There was nothing I could have done. The more professional professionals were handling it. Rest in Peace Charlie and Andy. It’s time for me to move on.

I lay the burden of survivor guilt down. I hope it wasn’t just for me, but for all those officers working that day.

When I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I completed a promise I had made for those officers and their survivors – I went into the Cathedral of Saint James and lit a candle for each. Before lighting the candle, I would set a flag down and mention their name. A moment of solitude – just a small Thin Blue Line flag with his or her name on it and a candle lit in their behalf.

Fifteen names, fifteen flags, and fifteen candles.

They were remembered.

Cpl. Charlie Hill, Alexandria PD
Ofc. Andy Chelchowski, Alexandira PD
Sgt. Morty Ford, Alexandria PD
Det. Conrad Birney, Alexandria PD
Ofc. Eugene Yoakum, Alexandria PD
Ofc. Bruce Van Hill, Alexandria PD
Dep. Bill Truesdale, Alexandria SO
Ofc. Mike Cody, Metropolitan PD
Ofc. David Hawfield, Metropolitan PD
Ofc. Ray Hubbard, Prince George’s County PD
Ofc. Kevin Welsh, Metropolitan PD
Ranger Margaret Anderson, National Park Service
Ranger Robin Daniels, National Park Service
Ofc. Phillip Michael Pennington, Prince William County PD
Ofc. Chris Yung, Prince William County PD
 

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