Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 19
May 11-17, 2000
Current Issue
The Empty Nest
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflection
Burton on the Bay
Chesapeake Outdoors
Not Just for Kids
Bay Bite
Bay Life
Good Bay Times
What's Playing Where
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us
Heroes of the War at Home

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

—Winston Churchill.

It is three months shy of 60 years ago that Sir Winston spoke those words of tribute to the Royal Air Force at the House of Commons. You had to be around at the time to fully appreciate the impact they had on freedom-loving people. The only barrier between the soil of England and resumption of the German Blitzkrieg was the badly outnumbered — though heroic — RAF.

I remember hearing those words on a crackling trans-Atlantic transmission re-broadcast on one of the radio networks. I was barely in my teens but old enough to appreciate what was going on the other side of the ocean — as well as the ominous implications those words bore for this country.

At that time, The Royal Air Force was Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Steve Young, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Dempsy, Ira Hayes, Colin Kelley, Sgt. Alvin York, Joe Foss, Eddie Rickenbacker and all the others revered today wrapped into one.

While this worried nation cheered from the sidelines (how long can the fly boys of Great Britain hold back the invasion?) every boy fantasized about joining the RAF and shooting down planes with swastikas on their wings and fuselages.

So much hero worship was within this writer in the days following Aug. 20, 1940, that several years later I ran away from home intent on doing the next closest thing to flying with the RAF. Word was the Royal Canadian Air Force didn’t check ages of enlistees, and RCAF was already flying missions from England where my closest high school friend, Henry Beckwith, was soon to die when his plane was shot down.

My plans were short-circuited when less than 100 miles from the Canadian border, I stopped to bid farewell to Aunt MiMi, a resolute country woman who stayed up all night to successfully argue that I should spend a few months with her to qualify for my senior year in high school, which would automatically make me eligible for a diploma if I joined the U.S. military.

The very first day of eligibility, I was at a Navy recruiting station and soon thereafter I was a Navy Seabee, within a year headed for the Pacific.

This doesn’t have much to do with the topic of this week’s column — those in a different kind of uniform — other than to convey the deep everlasting impression of the words “so much owed by so many to so few.”

Bring in the RAF

Trouble is, as I read the daily press or listen to the radio (I rarely watch TV), those in the different kinds of uniforms today are too often the subject of suspicion, even scorn. You might even say: Never in the field of human conflict were so few unappreciated by so many.

I am, of course, referring to policemen, all kinds of law enforcement officers, city, state, county, federal, whether they be a Secret Service agent whose bottom-line obligation is to get between the bullet and the president or the sleepy village cop occasionally called to settle family ruckuses when not blowing his siren to pull speeders to the curb — if the village is big enough to have curbstones.
Take this morning’s Sun as an example. The Tuesday, May 9 edition is littered with crime stories, murders, robberies, rapes, drug dealings and such — despite the fact that three million offenders are already locked up behind bars across the nation.

The cities, of course, are the no-man’s land, and though I live in what might be considered the in-between, the distant outskirts if not quite the country, more crime is evident — though thankfully still of the less-violent kind. But it’s creeping toward us of Riviera Beach, which is part of Pasadena, in North County. Gradually, it spreads. Even those in the boondocks are not immune.

Sure there are social, educational, community and all other kinds of programs designed to make any place a better place to live, but few really accomplish much. The only effective force in the fight against crime is the police, whether they patrol the streets of Baltimore and Annapolis, periodically drive through Riviera Beach or check things out occasionally in Tracys Landing.

Who’s the Bad Guy?

So I sit out on the side lawn overlooking Stony Creek, and I read on the front page that Baltimore has its third top cop in seven months: Edward T. Norris, 40, and presumably because he hails from New York City where some real bad apples turned up on the force the past couple years, his welcome is tainted by stern warnings about police brutality and targeting minorities.

Of course brutality by anyone or the targeting of any group — black, white Asian, Spanish or whatever — is not to be tolerated. But in Baltimore, other big cities, even small cities like Annapolis, one would think police behavior is the big issue, not the multitude of crimes that deprive people of their property, security and even their lives.

To put on a badge, gun, radio, handcuffs and all the other things that add a dozen pounds or more from chest to waist, we pay a police officer less than a licensed plumber, electrician or carpenter. We pay them to stand between us and the criminals — and that can mean taking the bullet for us.

We expect them to be social worker and peacemaker in domestic arguments; to keep our roads and highways free of anything from drunks to speeders and aggressive drivers; to protect our banks and businesses as well as our neighborhoods and schools; and to avert just about anything else that might offend us. And we want it done efficiently, no mistakes, no aggressiveness, everything hunky-dory.

No excuses.

It’s easy to demand. After all, it’s not you or me who is in the front line. Anything from stopping a speeder to checking out a suspected drug runner or serving a warrant can turn sour in a split second. In the cities, the criminals are better armed, sometimes better protected in bulletproof attire; they have the element of surprise — and all of this flows outward to the suburbs and the countryside.

We take it all for granted. We’re not the ones who suddenly and unprepared face the barrel of a Glock or a knife or fists — even a crazed offender ramming a patrol car.

Safe on my lawn because police in large part do keep law and order despite what many say, and reading the daily paper, I find a ray of hope.

On the editorial page — though marred by the lead editorial warning the new police commissioner of the sensitivities of police procedures — there is a county editorial paying tribute to Anne Arundel County police such as Rhonda Osborne, Valerie Mills, Stephen Taylor, John Yang, Richard Morris and Earl Fox — all of whom are said to have gone above and beyond the call of duty to save lives and catch criminals.

They deserve the distinction and awards. But is it not true that all who wear the uniform are prepared to do just that: Go above and beyond? That’s part of the job, and just about all who do that job deserve tribute.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly