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Monday, August 20, 2007

8/20/07 Greenwich Police Honor Guard Makes a Comeback

(Greenwich Citizen) - This March, two years after being disbanded, the Greenwich Police Honor Guard reappeared in a new incarnation with throwback uniforms and the same sense of purpose and duty they have always had.

After making their debut at the swearing-in ceremony of new Deputy Chief David Ridberg, the Honor Guard led the town's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. "The guys looked real sharp," said Sgt. James Bonney, president of the GPD Silver Shield Association, which is the Greenwich Police union.

"We're not some meandering group," he continued. "We are trying to look as professional as possible."

People seemed to agree. The Guard is scheduled to lead the Memorial Day parade in Old Greenwich and will appear at the town's Salute to Veterans event - major signs of respect for a group that was disbanded in a cloud of controversy in December 2005.

According to Bonney, Police Chief James Walters disbanded the original Guard after it failed to appear at the second inauguration of First Selectman Jim Lash. Instead, members of the Guard joined Silver Shield members who were protesting outside the ceremony.

Many of the Guard's members, he said, hadn't even been present at the protest, but had been working, taking time off or on military leave.

When the Guard was disbanded, Bonney and other Silver Shield members began their efforts to reform the group as an independent entity funded by the union. They launched a fund-raising effort that eventually yielded nearly $25,000, including $18,000 from one donor, to pay for new uniforms and equipment for the 14-member squad.

The uniforms they purchased are a tribute to the uniforms worn by Greenwich police in the 1940s and '50s. "We wanted it to mean something, to go back to the original GPD look," Bonney said.

The double breasted, high collar uniforms were custom made in Massachusetts and have one particularly special feature - three stripes on the right sleeve that represent the three Greenwich officers who have died in the line of duty.

"The stripes are on the right sleeve because every time we salute, we are saluting them," Bonney explained.

The current Honor Guard attends not only town ceremonies, but also the funerals of area officers killed in the line of duty, something that many Greenwich police did on their own time.

"A lot of us used to go down on our own time, I would take days off to go to funerals," said Bonney, "but now we can go down as a unit."

Most recently, the Guard attended the funeral of one of the New York City auxiliary officers that was shot to death in March.

"When I saw them do that, that's when I really appreciated the Honor Guard the most. It was a really nice thing to do for the family and a nice way to respect the guy," Bonney said.

It is a duty that Greenwich officers take very seriously. "We are dead serious about this," said Bonney.

Now that the Honor Guard is under the control of the Silver Shield, it is an entirely voluntary undertaking. Officers formerly received pay for practicing and appearing at events, but no more.

"Guys do it because they like it," Bonney said. "One of the proudest things I ever did was help get the Honor Guard back together."

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