The helmet was a sign, unknowingly, set in motion a long time ago.
After a couple years of soul searching, in March of 2007, my brother John decided law enforcement was the career for him. He was hired by the Sacramento Police Department and immediately began the police academy training program. John and my dad, Bob, were extremely close -- the yin to each other’s yang. And after nearly 30 years of dedicated service with the Alameda Police Department, Bob was enjoying his well-earned retirement and could not be more proud and honored that his son had chosen this career in the “family business”.
John was slated to graduate from the police academy six months later, in August 2007. Friends and family happily anticipated the ceremony, representing the passing of one decorated badge to the next hard earned generation to wear with pride. Sadly and totally unexpectedly, my dad passed away that June from complications following open-heart surgery. Remarkably, John, being his father’s son, missed only one day of the academy following our dad’s death. Although overwhelmed from the loss of our father, he continued on knowing that dad would want him to do what he set out to accomplish by putting one foot in front of the other.
The police academy consists of six months of intensive physical and mental training. Not one day is considered easy; focus and dedication are paramount to a recruit’s success. One week before the graduation ceremony, the recruits prepared for riot control training. John’s particular academy class contained recruits from four different police departments and each respective department was responsible for supplying proper riot control gear. One of those departments sponsoring recruits was Grass Valley PD. At the start of training, the Grass Valley recruit casually approached John with an interesting twist of fate, and said, “Look, the person who had this helmet before me was named Cranford too. Isn’t that weird?”
Intrigued, they inspected the helmet together and on the inside, on a dried out, yellow, faded piece of brittle masking tape in Bob’s unmistakable handwriting, was the short six letter yet astonishing name “Cranford”! Upon further inspection, the Grass Valley PD seal was removed from the front to reveal the original department’s mark – Alameda Police Department! In an amazing sequence of events, the Alameda Police Department had donated the helmets to the fledgling Grass Valley PD 10 year’s prior. Coincidence? We think not, more like divine intervention! Everyone at the academy was amazed, and John was stunned. A sergeant from Grass Valley PD later told my mom, Robin, that he asked his two recruits to just pick any helmet from a shelf containing many, and this young man reached up and by chance, or guided fate, grabbed this one on this day. Incredible!
Finally the graduation ceremony came, a bittersweet day indeed. We were so proud of John – of how much he’d accomplished and persevered through -- and so sad that his dad wasn’t there in this moment that should have been theirs to share.
During the ceremony, a number of recruits earn awards for accomplishments above and beyond the rest. One special award is not based on exam scores or exceeding physical goals, but is reserved for the one recruit that brings more to the class than a benchmark, more than an example of excellence. This award recognizes the drive, motivation and beacon of strength this recruit brings to all around them to succeed in accomplishing goals in the face of any obstacle. The award is for the “Most Inspirational” recruit. My mom and I were crying like little babies as they described this truly amazing recruit, we just knew what was coming, and then John’s name was called out to the hundreds seated in the auditorium.
Overwhelmed and tearful, John was presented with not just the award, but also the very same helmet that bore his father’s name, all shined up as if it were new, enclosed in a beautiful case with the faded piece of masking tape Lt. Bob Cranford had applied so many years ago. The helmet was accompanied by a plaque, which read, “John Cranford, Most Inspirational Recruit, 07BR-1. In Memory of Lt. Robert E. Cranford, Jr. Let the Tradition Live On.” As the amazing story was retold to all in attendance there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
At a time when so much happiness and pride was mixed with unimaginable loss and sadness, could there have been a more poignant and obvious sign from my dad? A way to reach out to his son, on the first day of his new life, to express his pride and say, “I’m with you son and I always will be”? We think not.