I was attending my first HPD Memorial Wreath Laying Ceremony as a volunteer chaplain with the Houston Law Enforcement Officers Family Support Unit.
Little did I know the impact this evening would have on me personally and how important attending the ceremony would become.
Sitting next to me on the bus ride to the Memorial was an adorably engaging two-yr-old by the name of Nolan Branon. We bonded over the excitement of his first bus ride and the many lights, horses and motorcycles that he could see through the window.
Nolan was accompanied by his father Nathanael Branon, his aunt Kiley Branon Smothers and his great-aunt Linda Branon. My experience of the Ceremony expanded exponentially as I experienced the evening through the eyes of this precious child and his family who have lived with the loss for over five decades.
And all the while Nolan was mesmerized by the sights and sounds, he had no idea that his presence at the Memorial played an important role in a tradition that has been carried out by the Branon family for more than 25 years.
You see, Nolan is the great-grandson of HPD Solo Officer Claude E Branon Sr, a graduate of HPD Academy Class No. 8 on April 4, 1952. Tragically, around March 13, 1959 while working a traffic stop, Officer Branon was struck by an 18-wheeler. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene and to this day the case remains unsolved.
Officer Branon held on for one week before succumbing to his injuries. EOW: Friday, March 20, 1959. Officer Branon left behind a wife, Betty Lee, and two children: six-year-old Linda and five-year-old Claude Jr., known as “Buddy.”
Fast forward 30 years and in 1990 the Houston Police Memorial was built. At the very first Memorial Ceremony a Branon tradition that will span more than 25 years took hold.
Officer Branon’s wife Betty Lee, their daughter Linda, and their son Buddy’s daughter Kiley – three generations of Branons – were present to witness this historic event and pay tribute to their fallen hero. Every year until 2013 Betty Lee and other family members have returned to the Memorial Ceremony. Betty Lee and her granddaughter Kiley never missed a ceremony till 2013 when Betty passed away on March 21, just one day after the 54th anniversary of her husband’s passing.
After Betty Lee’s passing it was too difficult for the family to attend the ceremony and they remained absent until this year when Linda, Kiley and Kiley’s brother Nathanael and his two-year-old son Nolan returned. Nolan adds one more generation of Branons to visit the Memorial.
Kiley told me how sad it was to be there for the first time without her grandmother, Betty Lee. When I asked if they plan to return she said that they definitely will be returning and that being there “felt like home.”
When asked why this annual ceremony was so important to her family, Kiley said, “It is important to keep my grandfather’s spirit alive and let our children and their children know where they came from.
“We share his DNA and we are reminded of that every day through Nolan’s blond hair and my daughter Amira’s blue eyes. We are a family of public servants – law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS. It is in our blood.”
Kiley shared the love and respect her family had for the Houston Police Department and the care her grandmother received after her husband Claude was killed. Alone with two small children, Betty Lee saw the Union step in and remodel her kitchen, which was in bad need of repairs.
Her grandmother loved to receive the Badge & Gun and read every issue from cover to cover. And at her funeral in March 2013 HPD Solo Officers served as pallbearers.
One thing that the Branon family hoped to do at the ceremony was to meet the officer standing for her grandfather when his name was called. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to accomplish this goal, which is why she especially treasurers the poignant photo she took of the officers on the bridge prior to the ceremony.
As a volunteer chaplain working with HPD families, I was amazed at the tremendous gift I received by attending the Memorial. The tribute that each family pays to their “hero” and the level of sacrifice they all endured, found a deeper home in my heart for which I am so grateful.
God willing, I hope to be able to attend the Memorial for years to come and hopefully ride the bus with my new found friends and continue to experience the Memorial through their eyes.