WASHINGTON - They were some of Clay County Detective David White's closest friends -- his fellow Honor Guard members.
White, who was killed in the line of duty last year, was the Honor Guard's bugler player. The guard is a specialty team that practices to make its appearance perfect, because when they do appear, it's for solemn purposes, like an officer's funeral or memorial service.
White (third from left in photo from two years ago) took the utmost pride in his duty as an Honor Guard member. That's what makes the void he's left so difficult for his closest friends as they honor him in Washington D.C. for the first time this year.
It is just one of the many memorials the Clay County Honor Guard has prepared to pay tribute to their fallen member this year.
Last week they were at the state memorial in Tallahassee, where they were asked to be the firing team for this year's 21-gun salute at that service.
In D.C., they'll have a spot on the steps of the nation's Capitol, where thousands of people will gather for the National Police Memorial.
Fourteen officers make up the Clay County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard.
"For me it's just an honor of being able to represent the badge to the family members when they lose somebody, to let them know that we are here for them no matter what," Honor Guard member Cesar Rodriguez said.
This year they've had to be there for each other after losing one of their own.
"We lost Dave White, and it's a little bit more touching because we did so many details with him," Rodriguez said. "We always talked about details, and now that we're in this situation it hits home, it tugs at you. So the training is a little bit harder because we want to be perfect because he's looking upon us right now."
There was more meaning to making things perfect at practice as they rehearsed for appearances in Tallahassee and D.C. White's wife says she always knew when he had an Honor Guard duty because he'd spend extra time shining his shoes and laying out his uniform. White always wanted to be nothing but perfect for the officer he was heading out to honor and protect.
"Practicing without him, it's an empty void because he's not there, he's not judging at us, he's not, 'Cesar, do this way or that, looks good,'" Rodriguez said. "We always look for, turn to Dave for his outside view."
Rodriguez said when he's thinking of his moves now, he still hears White telling him what to do.
"And his smile and the way he, he never had nothing but a smile, and if he was correcting you, he had a smile," Rodriguez said. "So yes, I hear him and I see him every time and his big shiny teeth, big smile always. You can never see Dave unhappy."
The Honor Guard still hasn't been able to replace White as its bugler player.
"We use other buglers, but it's not the same because Dave was special for us when it came to that," Rodriguez said. "When he did his rendition, you can feel it and tears do flow when taps are played, no matter where. But when it was Dave, he was a perfectionist and those tears flowed."
The last time many of Honor Guard members were in D.C. for the National Police Memorial, White was with them. Now they're there without him, standing guard as his name is added to the National Memorial Wall.
"We've worked really hard, we've practiced a lot together, we're pretty right group, specialty team, and we come up with new things to be impressive, and we want to support the family and honor David the right way and make sure he's always remembered," said Sgt. Mark Tate, of the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
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