Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Dallas officer on duty when JFK shot retires

by MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News

Long and lean, Sgt. Graham H. Pierce won his nickname early in his career with the Dallas Police Department, sprinting and catching a suspect in his first foot chase.

To almost everyone in the department over the next 45 years, Sgt. Pierce would be known as "Greyhound."

But when "Greyhound" Pierce retired on Monday, he took with him another distinction: He was the last member of the department who was working the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

As a rookie fresh from the academy in 1963, Sgt. Pierce was assigned to the night shift, so he was home sleeping when the president was killed on Nov. 22.

By the time he reported to work at 11 p.m., Lyndon Baines Johnson was president and Dallas City Hall was a madhouse of reporters searching for scraps of news and photographers desperate to find that special shot.

He spent the next eight hours on patrol in South Dallas, where a somber crowd milled through the streets, shocked that such a thing could happen in their town.

On Monday, he stood in a big room at the southeast division substation before his wife, children and grandchildren, fellow officers and department brass and looked back over his career.

"Forty-five years has been a long time," said Sgt. Pierce, 67. "But it went by awful fast. I still remember being a rookie on the street, just out of the academy.

"I just can't remember anything in between," he joked.

No one in the room believed him for a second. Speaker after speaker honored him for his dedication, his leadership, his willingness to do whatever needed doing.

Sgt. Pierce actually left his job about a month ago to use up vacation time, said his supervisor, Lt. Brian Cornish.

"But one day we were really short on supervisors, and he showed up," Lt. Cornish said.

Deputy Chief Patricia Paulhill, commander of the southeast patrol division, recalled the first time she met Sgt. Pierce.

"It was my first day at southeast and I walked in, a brand new sergeant, and I said, 'I'm Sgt. Patricia Paulhill. Can you tell me where my office is?'

"There was a nice looking gentleman sitting there, and he never looked up," she said. All she heard was a muffled laugh.

She asked again and he pointed her toward the end of the hall, where she found a few cells on one side, and a room packed with file cases on the other.

"He politely told me I had the second drawer on the right hand side," she said.

Assistant Chief Floyd Simpson, who presented Sgt. Pierce with a plaque from the city of Dallas, remembered working with him in southeast, too.

"In my mind, you're an icon," Chief Simpson said. "You're my hero."

Sgt. Pierce spoke last, a quiet man unaccustomed to such attention.

"I knew I'd have to do this," he said as he started his speech. "I've been thinking about it for a week. I'm still thinking about it – I don't know what I'm going to say."

So he spoke from the heart, to the friends he's made over 45 years, as he looked toward a new phase of life.

"The bad part is going to be missing all of you," he said. "And the sad part is there is probably someone here I'll never see again.

"But you'll always be in my memory."

Source: The Dallas Morning News

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