GULFPORT – Remembering the lives and deaths of fallen officers is especially poignant if you knew one of them.
I can remember how upset I was on Aug. 14, 2008, to learn Lt. Rob Curry had been killed in a collision. A driver pulled in front of Rob's police-issued 2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle as he was on his way to escort a funeral procession.
Rob had once told a fellow officer, “Where else in the world can you ride a shiny Harley-Davidson and actually get paid to do it? Only in America.”
I knew Rob. He was an award-winning DUI officer who cared about taking impaired drivers off the street. He was a hostage negotiator, motorcycle officer and accident reconstructionist. Sometimes he was the one who gave me details on crashes and DUI arrests.
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His name easily comes to mind to many Gulfport residents when a fallen officer memorial is held. He was the first Gulfport police officer killed in 29 years.
He was struck about 10:27 a.m. in front of the Post Office on U.S. 49 in Orange Grove. Efforts to revive him failed.
A friend had called to tell me she drove up on the scene. She didn't know the officer, but said she prayed over him, and she prayed for a woman who kept exclaiming that it was an accident.
The media was told his name in a press conference after he died shortly after the crash.
I'm a reporter. But I'm human. My shoulders shook as I wept and took notes through my tears, trying to remain professional. I didn't feel professional. I hurt for him, his family and his police family. I would have cried if I hadn't known the officer. But I knew him.
Flags soon flew at half-staff and funeral preparations unfolded with a seven-mile procession to Coalville United Methodist Church. The procession twice passed under large American flags suspended from fire department ladder trucks. Some people stood on the roadside and held signs thanking Rob and other officers for their service.
Rob's wife Leslee, also a police supervisor, reached out to hug those who filed past his open casket and shared smiles in memory of his personality.
He was laid to rest in his uniform with sunglasses propped over his head. A Tony Stewart motorcycle seat cover was draped over the casket. A miniature orange race car with Stewart's number 20 on it was placed near Rob's head.
He was a character with a sense of humor. And he loved his profession.
In the cemetery across the street from where he worshipped with his wife and their two children, loud sobs broke the silence after a dispatcher issued a final radio call for the officer whose badge number was 107. Strong, poker-faced officers and officials I'd worked with for years bent double in grief. I did, too. At that moment, I wasn't a reporter, but a citizen grieving with the men and women in blue.
Rob is now remembered in part as the namesake of the city's public safety center.
It's a humbling experience to attend fallen officer ceremonies. It's a reminder that those sworn to serve and protect don't always make it home to those they love.
And it's an honor to remember them in annual ceremonies so their lives and ultimate sacrifices are never forgotten.