Gleason's death was the first of four in the line of duty memorialized in the unveiling of a granite sculpture on the grounds of Police Headquarters Saturday. More than 200 law enforcement personnel, family members, officials and friends of the officers attended ceremonies that included touching remembrances and accolades for the four.
Police Officer Robert Michael Perry did not survive a 1970 shooting that left his partner, Officer Robert Beck, injured but able to serve to retirement. Police Officer Frank Buczek was shot by an unkown assailant in 1971. Police Officer Abigail Powlett was shot by a drifter with her own gun in 1985.
Speakers praised all who serve, not knowing whether a routine tour of duty might end in the ultimate sacrifice.
Former Police Chief John Propsner knew all of the slain officers and came to Plainfield from Delaware Saturday for the ceremonies.
"This memorial is going to make sure we don't forget officers who worked here and made the ultimate sacrifice," Propsner said.
Susan Gleason was only two months old when her father was killed. Now an assistant Union County prosecutor, she said she sought her profession "to honor my father." Although she has accepted his death, she said, she still "cannot accept the brutality" of it. Her mother's last words to her father were, "John, don't be a hero," she said.
"But that's what he did."
Despite his horrific fate amidst racial rioting in the city, his wife wrote a letter to a local newspaper asking for the community to come together, Susan Gleason said.
Officer Perry's sister, Susan Clark-Perry, recounted his life, citing his love of baseball, his Marine service in Vietnam including capture by the Viet Cong and their mother's vigil with an artificial Christmas tree until his return to Plainfield as a decorated veteran. His shooting on June 30, 1970 at a fire scene in the West End was described at the time as a "wanton attack" that was deliberately staged. He had been a Plainfield Police officer for just 331 days when he died, robbed of the chance to prove himself as an officer and to have a family of his own, his sister said.
Officer Buczek served in the U.S. Navy before joining the police force and was a "loving husband and a devoted father," his oldest daughter Pamela Luther-Buczek said. The night before he was shot, he had helped her select names for his first grandchild, she said. On patrol at a bingo game at St. Mary's Church on Sept. 22, 1971, he was fatally shot and his family was never able to say their last goodbyes, she said. He had served the Police Division more than 24 years.
Jayson Powlett traveled from Montana with the help of local law enforcement for Saturday's ceremony, but was overcome with emotion while recounting the life of his mother, Officer Abigail Powlett. His sister Noreen joined him at the podium to describe their loss.
"We miss her just as much now as we did then," Noreen said.
Her cruel shooting denied the family all the special moments of life and knowing her seven grandchildren, Noreen said. Those who knew her have always remembered her smile, said her daughter, a fact backed up by Captain Edward Santiago, who said Saturday, "When she smiled at you, you just had to smile back - she had a gorgeous smile."
Each family received a memorial flag and a white rose to place on the memorial, which was erected by Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 19. The group raised $20,000 through various fundraisers.
Speakers included PBA President Andre Crawford as well as numerous state, county and local officials. The fallen officers will also be remembered at ceremonies on Oct. 9 at the John Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains.
Although the four have long been honored by a display of plaques inside headquarters, fellow officers wanted a permanent memorial on the grounds at Watchung Avenue and East Fourth Street.