I was planning to do a series of articles this week on Hero Material, but I've decided to postpone the articles to instead honor two very special men who give new meaning to the term--Sgt. Andy Tingwall and Officer Wesley Cox of the New Mexico State Police. This morning, I attended the memorial service for Andy Tingwall in Santa Fe.
This past week was a very difficult time for the police and National Guard families, and the citizens of New Mexico, as we hoped and prayed for the safe return of Andy and Megumi Yamamoto, the lost hiker he and Officer Cox had set out to find in the rugged, snow-covered wilderness at 12,200 feet in a State Police helicopter. Though we are thankful for the survival of his spotter, Wesley Cox, who managed to negotiate impossible terrain to find help even though severely injured, we were deeply saddened that Andy and Ms. Yamamoto did not survive. They were recovered by members of the National Guard after a desperate two-day search.
I once had the privilege of meeting Andy Tingwall, and my immediate impression was that he was a quality individual. His fellow officers describe him as man who had a genuine desire to perform a service for his state and community--a humble and understated professional who's philosophy was summed up as: "Whatever you do, be the best you can be at it." In addition to his role as a helicopter pilot, Sgt. Tingwall served as a police spokesman, an academy training officer, had been honored as the 2008 Officer of the Year and was to receive a Medal of Valor on Friday for past efforts. He truly was a man who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Officer Wesley Cox is a member of the bomb team and had received a Purple Heart after being struck by a vehicle in the line of duty a few years ago. He spent nearly two years recovering from those injuries. At present, he is still recovering as a result of the helicopter crash but was present at the memorial service. Last week, when asked by a reporter how Officer Cox managed to find help with his extensive injuries and severe hypothermia, State Police Chief Faron Segotta shook his head and described him as "very tough."
Over the last six days, Sgt. Andy Tingwall and Officer Wesley Cox have given me new insights into the term "hero material." Andy's service this morning reinforced what a true giant we have lost. His memorial was attended by hundreds of law enforcement officers, military, search and rescue personnel, citizens, and officials such as Governor Bill Richardson, who knew Andy personally and talked of his qualities. Many of his close friends and colleagues told anecdotes about Andy, including his two surviving brothers--one also a State Police Officer--his fellow pilots, and his oldest daughter, who is ten. Part of a letter he had written to his wife and daughters in the event of his death was read to the audience. In it, Andy told his family he now flew in blue skies and clear air and not to be too saddened by his passing.
The Japanese consulate and the parents of Megumi Yamamoto were also present, after traveling all the way from Japan. In another touching gesture, the Yamamotos presented the Tingwall family with a wreath in gratitude for Andy's efforts to save their daughter and in sympathy for his loss.
We have indeed lost a great hero...but another is still among us.
We wish Officer Cox a very speedy recovery.
Rest in peace...and blue skies and clear air, Sgt. Andy Tingwall.
Officer Wesley Cox
Sgt. Andrew Tingwall