Biloxi police officers who carried a retired Chicago police officer to his final resting place didn’t know him, but gave him full police honors as one of their own.
Fred Woullard, 70, died Feb. 28 of complications from being exposed to agent orange while serving in Vietnam, said Frieda Sanders, one of Woullard’s five children and his only daughter.
He was a retired member of the Chicago Police Department, where his 26 years of service included work in narcotics and tactical units.
The Army veteran was buried at the Biloxi National Cemetery on Friday in a service that also included full Army honors. The cemetery is on the grounds of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The Biloxi Police Department Honor Guard Corps often presents colors at public events. However, officers say participating in ceremonies for a deceased officer is the toughest part of the job.
“It’s very emotional,” said Investigator Mike Mason, an Honor Guard member since 1996.
“It’s an honor to do it because it’s part of burying a former law enforcement officer,” Mason said. “It’s like honoring one of our own. It’s like I can give the the family some peace of mind, some comfort.”
Woullard has never lived in Biloxi, but his father did. Clayton Woullard Sr., also a veteran, had lived in Biloxi until his death more than 25 years ago.
Fred Woullard’s father had wanted to be buried at the National Cemetery but was buried in a family plot near Waynesboro instead. Clayton Woullard’s casket will be exhumed so he can be buried in Biloxi with his son, Sanders said.
A slow salute and hand shakes
The Biloxi Honor Guard, dressed in black uniforms with black hats and white gloves, removed Fred Woullard’s flag-draped casket from a hearse on Friday. The officers made slow, synchronized side steps to turn the casket around and take it under a pavilion.
Eight officers in two rows flanked the casket, standing at attention. Their white-gloved hands gave a slow salute to Woullard.
The bugle melody of Taps played as birds chirped in the afternoon sun. The officers retreated and stood at attention nearby.
Two members of an Army Honor Guard took the U.S. flag off of the casket and folded it methodically and slowly. One of them knelt before Edna Woullard, his wife of 47 years, and handed her the triangle-shaped flag while offering “gratitude for his service from the President of the United States and the Army.”
Police officers, with solemn faces, shook hands with each of the mourners seated in the two front rows under the pavilion.
“I can’t help but get emotional on the inside when I do this,” said Mason, who leads the Honor Guard Corps. Mason and the other officers maintained their composure throughout the service.
Sanders said she was grateful for the police honors for her father. She and Lasha August of Richmond-August Funeral Home had contacted the Biloxi Police Department to honor Fred Woullard’s request for a funeral with police honors.
Woullard was born in Chicago and grew up in Waynesboro, where he was raised by his grandparents. He served in the Army from 1968-1971. He also was stationed in Germany.
Woullard and his wife Edna had been married 47 years, and raised their children in Chicago. One of their children now lives in Hattiesburg. Another just moved to Meridian.
‘Enamored with Biloxi’
Woullard loved going to casinos and keeping an immaculate lawn, Sanders said.
Their grandfather had left his home in Biloxi to the family after his death in 1992. The family planned to use the home for visits to Biloxi and for family gatherings.
Hurricane Katrina washed away the home in 2005. The family still owns the lot. It’s unclear whether they will rebuild on the lot.
“My brothers and I are enamored with Biloxi,” Sanders said. “Biloxi’s going to be seeing a lot of the Woullards.”