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A Tribute to Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove

Kip Hamilton

(12/10) I wish I had known Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) David L. Grove, but I didn’t. I met him on a remote section of road one dark, cold night in November, but by then, it was too late.

A 31-year-old, enthusiastic, dedicated enforcer of the law and protector of animals, David was senselessly killed during the traffic stop of a suspected poacher the night of November 11th out on Schriver Rd in Highland Township, PA, just north of the Maryland border. A passenger in the suspect’s vehicle reported to police that as the shooter, a convicted felon, was getting out of his vehicle at the direction of WCO Grove, he said that he wasn’t going back to prison. It seems that his twisted solution to keep from going to prison was to shoot a police officer.

On the afternoon of November 21st, the life and work of David Grove was celebrated at his funeral service at Waynesboro High School. Here we were, the crew of the Fairfield ambulance which gave Dave his final, frantic ride that tragic night, together again, along with a thousand others from all over the country to express our honor and respect for David and his grieving family. Having parked the ambulance in the seemingly endless line of law enforcement vehicles and placed the black funeral drape on the front of the unit, we, along with our Chief and crew of the fire engine that came from our station as well, walked slowly to the high school building, passing officers and game wardens from Maine, New York, Vermont, Idaho and so many other places who had come in David’s honor.

Approaching the building, we passed masses in the hundreds of Officer Grove’s fellow law enforcement officers in solemn, silent formation and numerous color guards from various organizations. We entered the auditorium where the service was to be held, took our seats in the back of the room and reflected on the significance of the moment as we listened to inspirational Christian music being softly played over the PA system. About 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony, David’s fellow Wildlife Conservation Officers began filing into the auditorium and quietly taking their positions standing at attention at their seats as their comrades filled the appointed section. By rough count there were 300-400 WCO’s present; surely the entire state of PA was represented. Following the Game Wardens, a large, 100-200 member contingent of the PA State Police quietly entered the room and took their positions across the main isle from Officer Grove’s brother and sister Game Wardens. There were so many there, it took almost the entire 30 minutes to get them all to their seats. The stillness of the room was broken by the Detail Commander’s verbal command for the officers to take their seats.

We waited as other guests and dignitaries filed into the room and took their seats. Finally, the family entered and took their place in the front row. Our State Governor was the last person to be seated and we became aware of bagpipes playing in the distance, the traditional music of the pipes sounded haunting as it got louder, approaching from outside the main entrance. As the lone piper entered the hall, the Detail Commander brought the officers to Attention and Present Arms. The traditionally-dressed bagpiper slowly moved from the rear entrance and down the center isle towards the front, followed by the 6-man honor guard of WCO’s who were actually carrying the casket down to the front of the auditorium where it was placed on a stand and lovingly covered by an American flag. The program began.

The service was conducted by two pastors who were family friends. David had a very real and joyful relationship with his Lord and both of his ministers described this relationship and how David loved to share it with those around him. We then heard memories of Dave from five of his closest friends. We laughed with the stories from his oldest friend and our hearts went out to his brother, Chad, as he struggled courageously to make it through his remarks. We heard from his WCO colleague that David, in spite of his younger age, was a consummate Wildlife Officer; a passionate lover of the outdoors and truly a Game Warden’s Game Warden. The Bible commands that man have dominion over the animals. WCO Grove heard this calling and his personal ministry was to Protect and Serve not only his fellow man, but his beloved animals as well.

His was a heartbreaking loss and one of his pastors made a point to try to answer the question of how could this have happened to someone who had such a deep faith and such a talent and passion for his work. His bottom line was that sometimes there just isn’t a "why" and we must have faith. At the conclusion of the service the family shared a number of slides that followed Dave’s journey through his life as an outdoorsman which started at a very early age. He loved to hunt and fish and his life’s dream was to become a Game Warden and, tragically, he lost his life doing what he loved.

At the conclusion of the service, we returned to the ambulance and waited for the solemn procession through the borough of Waynesboro to the cemetery…and waited…and waited. There were hundreds and hundreds of law enforcement vehicles with their blue and red lights flashing in Dave’s honor and we had to wait for more than a half an hour just to pull away from the curb. We slowly made our way out to Waynesboro Pike to find the citizens of the area lining both sides of the road; some waving little American flags; some with their hand over their heart, but most just standing in quiet respect of the sacrifice that had been made for all of them. Being in the only ambulance in the procession, we had a good view of the route from our elevated position. Looking to the front, it was flashing lights as far as we could see. Looking in the mirrors, it was flashing lights behind us as far as we could see. It was such a moving tribute to this courageous, young officer.

As we arrived at the cemetery we found the entrance framed by two ladder trucks majestically displaying a huge American flag between their raised ladders. By the time we had parked and made our way over to the site, the sun had set and the site was lit by fire department scene lights and the only sounds were the quiet hum of the electrical generators. Once again lead by the lone bagpiper, the WCO honor guard carefully carried the casket from the hearse through the darkness to the gravesite where his family was waiting. There was a good quality PA system there and we all could clearly hear the words of strength and inspiration offered by the clergy.

Towards the end of the service, WCO Grove received a 21-gun salute from the seven-member rifle squad, followed by an eerie rendition of Taps played by two buglers, one echoing the other in the still darkness. At the end of Taps, a lone helicopter made a low-level fly-by of the cemetery sweeping the grounds with its searchlight as if looking for someone. Then we heard a simulated radio transmission come over the loudspeakers; headquarters was calling Unit 416, Officer Grove’s dispatch number. They tried to reach him three times on the radio with no response and then the announcement was made that Unit 416 was no longer available.

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