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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Remembering my friend, Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick

While the riotous insurrection unfolded live on television in early January, I recognized every square inch of the U.S. Capitol displayed on the screen. Oftentimes during my 17 years working at the U.S. House of Representatives, I routinely walked through the entrances breached by the misguided domestic traitors. I knew that Officer Eugene Goodman was baiting the mob and luring them away from the Senate lobby entrance, where moments prior Vice President Pence had been evacuated by his Secret Service detail. Moreover, I constantly strained at my television screen to recognize any of my many U.S. Capitol Hill Police officer friends while they battled against the violent insurrectionists.

Capitol Hill employees share an unofficial fraternalism, a sort of badge of service bond regardless of political party affiliation. For anyone who ever worked at the congressional complex campus, the Capitol structure is a sacred domed temple deserving veneration, just like any loyal congregation would spiritually revere their church, mosque or synagogue.

On our watch, we are freedom’s frontline legislative stewards, unsung patriots who secured past liberties and seek to strengthen equalities moving forward. That is why I felt personally insulted by the violent disregard those domestic traitors perpetrated when they smashed its physical presence and attacked the police officers who share my commitment of duty and respect for our constitutional form of government.

Ironically, I was most embarrassed by a photograph of an insurgent traitor on the Capitol grounds holding a flagpole with the American flag and a pro-police thin blue line flag hanging above the interlocking Notre Dame logo flag with the slogan “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

Embattled Officer Harry Dunn, a 13-year veteran, best described my feelings of betrayal when he said, “They beat police officers with Blue Lives Matter flags. They fought us, they had Confederate flags in the U.S. Capitol ... I got called a [N-word] a couple dozen times protecting this building.” He asked his fellow officers, “Is this America?”

Fortunately, America as envisioned by our Founding Fathers survived as a result of the herculean efforts by many law enforcement and military patriots who defended our system of democracy. Despite the mentally deranged efforts of traitors to wish away a fair election result, our nation’s legislative branch certified our peaceful constitutional transition of power.

It was not until after the disgraceful efforts of delusional traitors dressed in tactical gear, carrying weapons and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with law enforcement officers had ended that I was overcome with heartache and extreme sorrow. I learned that my friend, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, passed away the following day as a result of battling the insurgents.

I first met Sicknick several years ago while he was patrolling on his mountain bicycle one early morning. He was assigned to guard one of the baseball fields where members of Congress practice for the annual charity game played at Washington Nationals Park — the proceeds of the game given to local youth charities. I have been a training and coaching volunteer staff member for more than 30 years. In 2017, when a gunman fired on a practice field, we were practicing on the other field. Since that event, a heavily armed full security detail protects both locations.

Sicknick was a friendly, jovial and interesting person anyone would appreciate as a neighbor. As a fellow dog owner, he enjoyed interacting with Peso, my German Shepherd mix who I brought to each practice. Beyond canine conversations, I learned of his military combat service in Afghanistan one morning when he noticed the Fifth Army lapel pin I wore honoring my father’s World War II service. His calm demeanor of barely mentioning his deployment was one I had seen from my war veteran relatives — understatements that betrayed the rigorous horrors a veteran endured.

My unique bond with Sicknick evolved with a Capitol Building trivia competition we struck up one morning. He mentioned an office near the crypt, and I replied that is where George Washington was supposed to be on display in a glass casket, but houses the Lincoln catafalque that supports every casket on public display in the Rotunda.

Sicknick asked if I knew which entrance the British had breached to invade the Capitol, and I replied I could point out the stairwell scars where musket balls had hit the sandstone steps. He attempted to stump me on the Old Senate Chamber, originally two stories tall, but inserted a division so that the Senate was a flight higher than the House. I countered that the architect opposed the separation and was killed trying to knock it down with a broom handle. Capitol trivia became our personal bond.

While not extremely close to Sicknick, our friendship is typical of any everyday encounter throughout life. Perhaps I was just lucky to have known Brian. He certainly deserved the high honors bestowed by Congress as the third member of the U.S. Capitol Police Force to lie in honor in the Rotunda. He deserved the respect of uniformed officers filing past his remains to offer a final salute or silent prayer, riding their bikes to lead his funeral procession, escorting the motorcade on motorcycles and showcasing his bicycle on a flatbed pickup truck. He most deserved a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

To answer a final question, “Yes, that is America.”

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame '73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton's administration. Contact him on Twitter @GaryJCaruso or send him an email GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.