At a service for fallen law
officers, a writer reflects on a heroic
grandfather he never knew
By BRYAN WOOLLEY / The
Dallas Morning News
and Clora Gibson,
photographed around 1913.
WASHINGTON – A prayer has been said. The
speeches have been made. "A police
officer never knows when a life-threatening
moment might come," the master of
ceremonies has said. Candles – thousands of
them – have been lighted and lifted toward
the night sky in remembrance. A trumpeter has
The roll call begins at 9:15 with Alabama,
then continues alphabetically through the
states. It will take a long time. Three
hundred and thirteen names are to be read.
They have been carved into the marble walls of
the National Law Enforcement Officers
Memorial. They join more than 15,000 already
At 9:50 comes the name I'm listening for:
"Audie Lee Gibson, Dec. 16, 1932."
My grandfather. I never knew him.
'He hadn't come back'
"We were getting worried because he
hadn't come back," my mother is saying.
She and I are sitting in a Dallas cafeteria,
"We heard somebody coming up the front
walk, and we thought it was him," she
says. "We opened the door, and it was
these people coming to tell us he had been
killed. Dr. Kennedy and his wife and Mr.
Waldrop and another person I don't
It was the early morning hours of Dec. 16,
1932, just nine days till Christmas. She was
16. The man who didn't come home was her
father, Audie Lee Gibson, a farmer who also
served as deputy sheriff for the tiny
community of Carlton in Hamilton County,
"Nothing ever happened in
Carlton," my mother says.
Around midnight the phone had rung. The
caller was G. L. Griffin's sister. Mr. Griffin
was co-owner of the Griffin & Pierce Drug
Store. He also owned the local telephone
office and lived in the building. He had
rigged an alarm that would sound at the
telephone switchboard if someone broke into
his store. It had sounded. While Mr. Griffin
went to investigate, his sister called Audie
and Sheriff Mack Morgan in Hamilton, 18 miles
It was cold. Snow was falling. Audie had
drained his car radiator to keep the block
from freezing. He said he would walk to the
drugstore. It was about four blocks away, just
down the hill. He got his gun and left.
His wife, Clora, and his daughter,
Beatrice, wouldn't see him alive again.
When Mr. Griffin arrived at his store, he
saw a man sitting in a car. Mr. Griffin spoke
to him, but the man didn't respond. Mr.
Griffin reached inside the car and jerked out
the keys. The man got out and ran. Mr. Griffin
heard a commotion inside the store and shouted
for the burglars to come out.
Two men dashed out the back door and fled.
Near the railroad depot they encountered Audie.
He struggled with them. They wrestled his gun
from his hand and shot him with it.
Apparently nobody heard. Falling snow soon
covered the body. When Sheriff Morgan arrived,
he organized a small posse and found
footprints in the snow along the road toward
Dublin. The posse followed them.
A few miles outside Carlton, Jim Pierce,
Mr. Griffin's partner in the drugstore and a
member of the posse, noticed footprints toward
a stand of timber. He went to investigate and
saw two men crouching in dead weeds.
Mr. Pierce was unarmed, but he held his
flashlight like a gun in his coat pocket and
accosted them. They surrendered.
Following more tracks, the posse found the
driver of the car. He had sought shelter at a
Nobody knew the burglars had killed Audie.
As the hours passed, his wife and daughter
were more and more frantic. When Sheriff
Morgan returned to Carlton with his prisoners,
Clora was able to reach him by telephone.
"Where is Audie?" she asked.
"Where is my husband?"
The sheriff organized another search.
Because of the snow, it took a while. The
searchers at first thought Audie's body was a
junk car fender.
When Clora opened her door and saw the four
callers, she knew why they had come.
"Mother and I nearly went out of our
heads," her daughter says.
The grief of survivors
Almost 69 years have passed since that
terrible night. Audie was 41 when he died. The
men who murdered him were sentenced to life in
prison. His widow, Clora, never married again.
She lived to 91 and wore his gold wedding band
always. Nearly everybody who knew Audie is
gone. The little town he died defending has
almost disappeared. The drugstore is a
His daughter, Beatrice, soon will turn 85.
His five grandchildren and 13
great-grandchildren have seen a few pictures
of him and have heard the story of his death.
It's all we ever had of him.
At the memorial during the roll call,
there are more than 3,000 people like us.
"Survivors," the speakers keep
calling us. Wives, husbands, mothers,
fathers, sisters, brothers, children,
grandchildren of men and women who died
defending the law, protecting the
community. Every year since 1991, when
President Bush dedicated the memorial, new
people come to honor their dead.
Many survivors are weeping. Their grief
is still new and raw.
Of the 313 men and women whose names
are being read, 150 were killed in 2000.
Many left young widows, children, even
infants. Thirteen were Texans.
One of them, "Aubrey Wright
Hawkins, Dec. 24, 2000," of the
Irving police, died like my grandfather,
shot by burglars just before Christmas.
The other 163 officers whose names are
being said have been gone for a longer
Until now, their service and sacrifice,
the master of ceremonies says, "had
somehow slipped through the cracks of
Forty-eight Texans were added to the
wall this year, more than twice the number
of any other state. Many of them, like my
grandfather, died in out-of-the-way places
and primitive times when record-keepers
were few and news coverage scant. Terry
Baker, a retired Dallas County deputy,
spends his days researching the stories of
lawmen who fell and were forgotten. Among
the Texans are 20 that he has found.
Who was "Robert Goode, July 28,
1868" or "Alpheus D. Neill, Feb.
6, 1877" or "Dallas Hodges, May
5, 1881" or "Hatch York, Jan.
22, 1896" or "Ben J. Hill, Oct.
19, 1902" or "Peter Howard, Aug.
Somebody once wept for them. Does
anybody still say their names? On this
night someone did. Their nation honored
Now their names are etched in marble.
© The Dallas
June 17, 2001