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Endless devotion to duty; Sacrifice that spans generations honored at police memorial

Patrolmen Herman A. Radel and Fred J. Pauley were involved in an old-fashioned police chase, but with a twist. They were riding in one of the first Buffalo police cars, one of those newfangled Model T's.

Radel and Pauley gave chase to some robbers, who promptly tossed some nails onto the northbound S-curve in Delaware Park, blowing out the police car's tires and sending it smashing into a tree, killing both officers, according to family members.

The date was July 19, 1919.

Monday morning, almost 93 years later, three of Patrolman Radel's grandchildren, now in their 60s and 70s, went to the Police Memorial Ceremony in St. Joseph's Cathedral, to pay tribute to a grandfather they never met and to 92 other Western New York law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty during the last 125 years.

"We come to honor his memory and carry on the tradition, to pass it on to the younger generation, so they don't forget what happened," said Cal Ruthenberg, 65, of Alden.

Neither Ruthenberg nor the other two Radel grandchildren at Monday's service -- Jackie Dragonette, 74, of West Seneca, and Richard Radel, 72, of Amherst -- would be born for almost 20 years after the patrolman's death.

But his police exploits have lived on.

Herman Radel had six children, ages 8 months to 8 years, when he died at age 38. None of those children is alive now. But long before they died, they passed on the stories of their father's police service to their children, who are relaying it to their children and grandchildren.

It's a pay-it-forward approach that started long before that term was coined.

"Our parents passed on the story of Herman Radel to us, and we're here to honor him and other police officers and to set an example for our children," Richard Radel said.

Richard Radel said he also came to show his support for current police officers. They, like his grandfather and others who were killed in the line of duty, put their lives on the line every day, never knowing whether it will be their last day alive.

Monday's ceremony was filled with pomp and circumstance, including a color guard, floral wreaths, three rifle volleys fired outside, an honor detail and the playing of taps.

Seven top elected and law enforcement officials addressed the crowd, before officials from 15 law enforcement agencies read off the names of the 93 fallen officers, dating from 1887.

"We remember our fallen brothers and sisters. We remember them as colleagues and friends," Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.

"Rest assured, we do remember. Heroes live forever."

In his tribute to police, Mayor Byron W. Brown said, "Law enforcement is a calling, not a job."

Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said that law enforcement officers are often criticized for their mistakes, "but there is one thing we can't be criticized for, and that is how we remember our fallen heroes."

Patrolman Radel is remembered for more than being killed in the line of duty, and Richard Radel loves telling stories about the grandfather he never met.

Patrolman Radel was riding the Genesee Street streetcar on the afternoon of Nov. 8, 1918, when he saw robbers run out of Zilliox Jewelry Store after a fatal holdup. A brief shootout left him wounded in the arm and one of the thieves shot in the leg.

The foot chase continued, though, with Radel finally cornering the gunman in a chicken coop on Nevada Avenue.

"Herman goes down there, according to my father, and says, 'Either you get out of the chicken coop, or I'm going to shoot you.' "

Needless to say, the gunman surrendered.

So in August 1997, the Buffalo Police Department presented its Medal of Honor in Patrolman Radel's memory to his last surviving child.

Richard Radel also recalled another story passed down from his father, Raymond, a type of incident that didn't win the patrolman any awards.

This happened whenever Herman Radel was in a "gin mill," and someone would mangle the pronunciation of his last name, which is RAY-del.

"He'd hit him over the head," Richard Radel said with a laugh. "Then he'd pick him up and tell him the correct pronunciation of his name."

Herman Radel is long dead, but the stories -- heroic or not -- will last forever.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com