If you are an old-time District Liner, perhaps you will recall a holdup that occurred during the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 1964. Some of us will never forget it.
Anthony Natoli, part owner of Natoli's Delicatessen at 1364 Flordia Ave., NE, was on duty in his store when two men entered at 1:15 a.m. and began browsing around.
Robert Owens, a customer, didn't like the looks of the two newcomers. He suspected that they planned to rob Natoli, so he left quietly and went off in search of a policeman.
At 14th and H Streets NE, Owens flagged down Wagon 9 and told the two officers in the patrol wagon of his suspicions. Officers Robert D. Handwerk and Paul T. Connors thanked him and said they'd check it out.
Natoli didn't know that Wagon 9 had been alerted. But he, too, was suspicious that a holdup was about to take place. He had begun to dial the police when his "customers" pulled guns, hit Natoli and a customer on the head with their weapons, and began cleaning out the cash register.
Moments later, Handwerk and Connors arrived at the scene. Guns drawn, they entered the store and ordered the robbers to drop their weapons. The gunmen opened fire instead. Five of their bullets hit Handwerk, who died shortly afterward.
Connors was wounded, but staggered out to the patrol wagon and attempted to radio for help. When he collapsed, Natoli seized the microphone and shouted, "Two policemen have been shot. Send help right away. Send an ambulance."
Robert Handwerk was 28 years old when he died. He left a widow and two small children.
Handwerk's fellow officers in the Ninth Precinct immediately contributed $1,000 to the Handwerk family. Within days, hundreds of people were sending in money, not just for the Handwerks but for all the widows and orphans left behind by men in blue who lose their lives in the line of duty. That's how Heroes, Inc., was born, and why we must keep it functioning today. The death toll seems to have no end.
Since Handwerk's death, 89 other police officers and firefighters have died in the line of duty in this area. They were affiliated with not only the Metropolitan Police and Fire Departments but with departments in Montgomery, Prince George's, Arlington and Fairfax Counties and with the Secret Service, FBI, Virginia State Police and Maryland State Police.
Thus far, 95 dependent children from 56 affected families have been helped with money and counseling. Many of the orphaned children have already been through college on Heroes scholarships, and 12 are still receiving such grants (including Derrick Handwerk, now a senior at Albright College). Five widows are attending colleges or nursing schools with the help of scholarships from Heroes, Inc.
Next week, Heroes, Inc., will begin its annual fund drive. But next week I won't have a daily column with which to nag you until you remember to send in your check. So please do me one final favor: Let today's column do the work that several nagging columns used to do. Let it serve as your reminder to write a check for Heroes, Inc., and mail it to P. O. Box 1860, Washington, D.C. 20013.
Your contribution will be tax deductible and every penny of it will be used to help the widows and orphans of those who give their lives to protect us. Nothing is deducted for overhead expenses. Expenses are paid for privately by the public-spirted but strickly anonymous members of Heroes, Inc. POSTSCRIPIT
A few old-timers like Ben Gilbert, who was city editor of The Washington Post for many years, and Ben Bradlee, who is now its executive editor, may wonder how I remember the morning of Jan 24, 1964, in such detail. There is a simple explanation.
I was monitoring the police radio on the city desk of The Washington Post when the shooting broke out. My son, Walter, was the night police reporter for The Fevening Star in those days and he always carried a camera in his car. He covered the shooting for The Star. His picture of the scene appeared on The Star's front page the next morning. And when Walter and I got home for "dinner" at 6 a.m. we discussed the tragedy at length.
When you work with policemen and firefighters all your life, you don't forget the ones who lose their lives in the line of duty.