After the slow, nine-mile-long funeral procession had entered the black-draped Gate of Heaven cemetery in Silver Spring yesterday, it took very little time to bury the two young policemen whose lives had been so suddenly ended Monday night.
There were prayers, a benediction and the presentation to the families of American flags that had covered the identical coffins of Prince George's County police officers Albert M. (Rusty) Claggett IV and James Brian Swart. Throughout it all there was an undercurrent of muffled sobs coming from many of the hardened police officers who had seen it all and hoped never to cry at the funerals of the men they called their "brothers."
Claggett, 26, and Swart, 25, both the sons of police officers, were shot to death with Claggett's police revolver Monday night. A 15-year-old youth being booked on suspicion of stealing coins from a laundry machine has been charged with the officers deaths.
The youth, Terrence Johnson, is being held on $1,050,000 bond.
Members of the grieving families sat inside the cemetery's chapel as lines of white-gloved police officers and family friends listened to the words of the Prince George's police chaplain relayed through a loudspeaker. Among the several long lines of police officers standing at attention were the gray uniforms of the Prince George's police, the beige blouses of the Montgomery County officers.
Claggett's widow, Caroline, was literally held up by two uniformed officers who escorted her everywhere. As she sat under an awning outside the chapel and viewed for the last time the flag draped coffin of her husband, she clutched the hands of Claggett's weeping parents, Blanche and Albert M. (Buck) Claggett III.
When the flag from his son's coffin was handed to retired policeman, Edgar J. Swart, Swart joined his wife Rita, in tears.
Patrolmen who had gone through the police academy with the men stood red-faced and swollen-eyed after the service, unable to do anything more than shake their heads when given the occasion to speak.
"They have become martyrs and have already received their heavenly reward," Msgr. Thomas B. Dade told the mourners early at St. Bernard's Catholic Church.
"I dread even to hazard a guess as to what (society) would be without policemen....For the parents we hope they can carry this heavy cross with dignity and resignation," said Dade. He said that Swart, a bachelor, had been baptized and confirmed in his church.
Rev. William Veil, of the Forestville Baptist Church, said in a eulogy over Claggett's coffin that "we cannot possibly explain tragedy, but (only) that tragedy can be overcome by peace and victory." He described Claggett, whose marriage ceremony he had performed, as a devoted father, husband, and son.
Nearly one hundred funeral floral arrangements were displayed inside Gasch's Funeral home in Hyattsville where the first of three ceremonies for the officers was held yesterday.
After the funeral procession had left Hyattsville, a Prince George's policemen sat alone in the room in the funeral home, head bowed, hat in his hands. After 15 minutes he left, eyes red, without saying a word.