It was a brutally cold night and the wind was blowing so hard that it was snowing sideways as Jack Davies walked his police beat in West Philadelphia. He was wearing a long wool overcoat, but the cold made worse the pain in his legs from the shrapnel that was a daily reminder of when his Marine Corps tank caught fire after being hit by a Red Chinese mortar round two years into the Korean War.
Davies paused at a call box at 52nd and Market streets to phone in his location to the station house. He resumed walking and about a half block away heard a noise behind a State Store. It was dark, but he was able to make out a very large man who had scaled a 12-foot chain-link fence and was trying to break into the store.
"I take my gun out of its holster and stuff it in my pants," Jack recalled earlier this year as he, his wife Anne, identical twin brother Bill and I sat around the dining room table of their lovely old farmhouse in the Poconos. Anne's Yorkies, Shamus McSnuggs and Amos O'Buggs, were at Jack's feet, while JoJo, a white and yellow cockatoo, added color to the conversation. Emily, a pot-bellied pig that Jack had gifted himself as a Christmas present, was snuffling around in the next room.
"So I start climbing up the fence and he starts climbing up, too," Jack continues. "I'm trying to get in and he's trying to get out. As I'm climbing my gun falls out so I have to climb down, find it in the snow and put it back in my pants.
" 'Look, you can shoot me,’ the guy says. ‘I just escaped from prison and the best thing you can do is shoot me.' And I think to myself, Well . . . I guess I can shoot him in the leg.
"So then we go at it again. I start climbing and he starts climbing. He finally gets to my side and jumps over. I chase him to the back of a row house. I hadn’t called in for a while and it must have occurred to somebody that Davies was missing, because all of a sudden there are sirens.
"I get in the back yard and I don't want to shoot the bastard. There is a clothesline pole there. I pick it up and tell him, 'I’m going to beat you in the f------ head with this thing if you don’t surrender.' Meanwhile, I can hear cops coming and I shout, 'I’m back here.' "
"I collar the guy and back at the station house I ask him, 'how did you escape?' "
"He says, 'I stole a spoon from the mess hall and I dug my way out.' I say, 'Well, I’ve got to give you credit. That’s pretty good.'
"He replies, 'Yeah, but look at me now.' "
* * * * *
What constitutes a hero is taking something of a beating these days. Owing perhaps to the unpopularity of those messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anyone who serves there is considered a hero. On the home front, the definition of a hero has been distorted by a steady diet of television reality shows in which the participants qualify as heroes merely because they survive series of choreographed stunts.
Then there was Jack Davies, who lived a life that restores a sense of what a real hero is:
His life-saving feats in Korea under dangerous and unspeakably harsh conditions.
Decades of service on the mean streets of Philadelphia as a police officer who not only thought nothing of dashing into burning buildings to save lives or staring down criminals armed with guns, spoons or otherwise, but spoke out against the racist and brutal behavior of some of his fellow officers.
And finally, decades of service as an officer with the Stroud Regional Police during a time when the Poconos was being transformed from a sleepy resort area to a bedroom community with big city problems and a crime rate to match.
Jack never backed away from a challenge. He was equal parts brave, compassionate, humble and humorous. In short, a true hero. And boy will we ever miss him.