CLOVER -- In the upstairs window of the Clover Police Department sits a Christmas tree decorated with blue lights and silver trimming.
But despite the holiday season, the tree's not a festive one. It was created to honor the state's men in blue who died on duty this year. The tree bears five cards with pictures of the fallen officers, such as retired Constable Robert Bailey, 67, who was shot, killed and buried in a shallow grave this spring while working part time in Lincolnville. A white dove sits perched amid the officer photos, symbolizing peace.
"These fellows do not have an easy job, and I'm afraid it's not going to get any easier," said Clover Cpl. Neil Flack, who made the blue ribbons and decorated the tree with her fellow officers. "You have to feel for these wives and children, especially at Christmas."
December is Police Memorial Month in Clover, and residents were asked to put one blue light on their Christmas tree to pay homage to fallen officers, said Sgt. Frank Sadler.
Sadler decided to take it a step further at his home on Mobley Street. He used nothing but blue lights to decorate the entire house. And then he thought, "Why stop there?"
He, Flack and other officers came up with the idea for the department's tree. Officer Tanner Davis did the research and found pictures of the officers killed in 2007. In addition to Bailey, the tree honors Moncks Corner Police Officer Lonnie Wells and Cpl. Marcus Stiles, who were shot responding to a domestic disturbance call in March; Spartanburg County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Carper, shot Feb. 27 while chasing a suspect who fled a traffic stop; and Dorchester County Sheriff's Deputy Phillip Deese, killed in a head-on traffic collision March 9 when a pickup truck crossed the median on Interstate 26.
"All these guys left for work one day and didn't realize they weren't going to make it back," Sadler said.
Flack added, "Someone's going to grow up without a daddy because of a crackhead."
She's grateful Clover hasn't lost an officer in at least the 18 years she's been with the department. She said she can't imagine what it'd be like to lose one of their own.
Mayor Donnie Grice was among the first to see the tree after it was put up this month.
"Our department really goes the extra mile and does a great job throughout the year," Grice said. "But when I saw that tree, it really touched my heart."
Grice's brother is in law enforcement, so he's seen first-hand the struggles officers face.
The tree reminds Sadler to be thankful for each day, he said.
"I tell the young guys all the time, 'Leave things good at home because you never know if you'll be back,'" Sadler said. "Kiss the kids before you leave. Tell your wife you love her. Make the most of every day."