Emotional tribute for fallen officers

March 28, 2009 4:01:38 PM PDT
Thousands of police officers from across the country gathered to join state officials and Bay Area residents Friday in attending a massive memorial service for four Oakland officers shot to death in the line of duty last weekend.

The four brave police officers sacrificed their lives to serve and protect their community. Flag-draped coffins were escorted into Oakland's Oracle Arena on the saddest day in the history of the Oakland Police Department.

It was a remarkable tribute to four men who lost their lives in the line of duty, and a tragic reminder of the sacrifices made all too often by those who protect and serve our communities.

Police departments from all corners of the country sent representatives to the service Friday to pay their respects. Dozens of officers were stationed outside Oracle Arena, forming a huge honor guard to salute each of the officers, and their families, as they arrived for the service.

MEMORIAL VIDEO:

Eighteen-thousand people filled the arena for the memorial. Fifteen-thousand of them were uniformed police, some from as far away as Boston, and Canada. And most, if not all of Oakland's 800 officers were in attendance. For those Oakland officers, the memorial was a deeply personal event.

One by one, the flag-draped caskets were slowly rolled into the Oracle Arena, until the number reached four. Never before in the history of the Oakland Police Department has there been a single funeral for this many fallen officers.

"They were prepared for it as best as they could, yet the daily violence found them also. All four men were brutally and mercilessly shot on a Saturday as they were doing their jobs," said Chief Howard Jordan.

They were jobs each one of them loved so much.

"Please know these officers died doing what they absolutely love ? being Oakland police officers, riding motors, kicking in doors, serving on SWAT," said Capt. Ed Tracey.

"My friend died today. I will never forget him," said Lt. Anthony Banks.

Nearly every member of the Oakland Police Department was there to say goodbye, along with dignitaries from around the state. Among the several who spoke were Attorney General Jerry Brown and California Senator Barbara Boxer.

"They stand tall in our hearts, in our memory, forever," said Brown.

"Without courage you cannot make a real difference in the world. These officers did," said Sen. Boxer. "The families of Oakland will never forget their sacrifice."

Also among the dignitaries to speak were Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Never in the entire 161 years of the OPD has there been a darker day than March 21st," said Sen. Feinstein.

"The grief that brings us here this morning is shared across our state," said Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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The four policemen who were honored and remembered joined 47 other Oakland officers who have died in the line of duty.

Sergeant Mark Dunakin was an 18-year veteran of the traffic division and a member of the motorcycle drill team. He was raised in Pleasanton where he attended Foothill High School. Sergeant Dunakin lived in Tracy. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Sgt. Ervin Romans was a member of the department since 1996. He is remembered as one of the most adept members of the SWAT team. He received a medal of valor for saving people from a burning building. Sgt. Romans lived in Danville and is survived by three children.

Sgt. Dan Sakai recently became a leader on the SWAT team's entry team. He was his academy class valedictorian. Sgt. Sakai called Castro Valley home. He leaves behind his wife, who is a UC Berkeley police officer, and a young daughter.

Officer John Hege joined the Oakland Police Department 10 years ago after being a reserve officer.

Officer Hege was single and lived in Concord with his dog. When he was not on-duty, he served as an umpire for baseball games. The donation of Officer Hage's organs following his death have saved four lives.

They had so much in common with each other and the thousands of other uniformed officers who came to say goodbye.

"He loved the uniform and he loved the badge. He always, always, always wanted to be a police officer," said Chris Dunakin, Sgt. Dunakin's brother.

Their favorite songs were part of their final farewell, and their badges and flags from their caskets were passed on to their families.

Many who attended the memorial, including family members, expressed that they hoped the tragedy could help be a wakeup call for a city plagued by so much violence.

The officers will forever be remembered in the Oakland Police Department lobby. A worker sandblasted their names into a memorial wall there on Thursday.

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