Published October 2nd, 2008 by Sgt Gene Eyster/ Cpl Edward Koczan
In November of 1974, the Honor Guard suffered the loss of one of their own members, Corporal Thomas J. DeRue Sr. During this period, line of duty officer deaths wer enot highly addressed, and did not occur very often.
After seeing the support that this unit provided to the family, fellow officers, and to the city, this team of devoted officers was recognized as a much needed unit. These officers in the following years attended numerous funerals for officers who had died in the line of duty in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. The members did this out of respect for a fellow officer as well as a sense of obligation to repay those who showed support during the loss of Cpl. DeRue. Members did this then, and continue doing so today, asking no compensation of any nature for their time and efforts.
In 1997, the South Bend Police Department suffered the loss of an off duty officer, Ptl. Michael Navarre, and the line of duty death of Corporal Paul R. Deguch. Members of the Honor guard organized and directed both officer funerals with the assistance of the then newly formed Indiana Critical Incident Team (CIT).
In addition to their local duties, members of the Honor Guard were asked to consider assisting the state CIT and other local agencies in showing honor to fallen officers throughout the state. Honor Guard members performed in parades, opening ceremonies for official conferences, as well as memorial services for fallen officers around the state.
Realizing the devotion and delicate assistance the Honor Guard provided to families of fallen officers and the positive image they provide for the police department and the City of South Bend as a whole, a formal agreement was forged between the City and the Fraternal Order of Police to fully support the Honor Guard and its members. Since this formal recognition, members of the Honor Guard have been requested to assist in coordinating funerals of officers from New Albany to Mishawaka, including several funerals for Indiana State Police Troopers, as well as arrangements for the late Indiana Governors Orr, and O'Banion.
As a result of the line of duty deaths of Cpl Scott Severns and Cpl Nick Polizzotto, and these requests, the members of this unit have to date provided in excess of 1000 man hours of service to the families for the past several years.
Officers are selected for this unit with the knowledge that the majority of the demands asked of them will be compensated only by knowing their efforts, time, and service is so needed and appreciated. Positions within the Honor Guard can and have been very demanding. In addition to being highly detailed in every aspect of their duties, officers are required to be ambassadors for the police profession and for the department they represent. Many of these same officers also act as counselors and mentors to officers and other agencies as part of the SBPD's own Critical Incident Team, formed in 2006.
The South Bend Police Department Honor Guard has earned a reputation throughout the United States as one of the most refined and dedicated units of its nature. Within the past year two of the members, Sergeant Gene Eyster, and Lt. Scott Ruszkowski, have been asked to join the steering committee of the Indiana State Critical Incident/Memorial Team.
The South Bend Police Department Honor Guard was also selected in May of 2008 as one of just six units out of over 400 (others being San Antonio, TX Police Department, US Border Patrol Texas Division, Aurora, CO Police Department, Cleveland Heights, OH, Police Department, with the South Bend Police Department) to receive the survivors of fallen officers 2007 at the gateway to the National Fallen Officers Memorial, in Washington DC, as part of National Police Week.
The dedication and sense of duty displayed by the members of the Honor Guard is evident in their genuine respect and caring for the families of fallen officers and their selfless participation in this difficult endeavor.