The best nicknames are rare. And they mean what the name is. There was only one police officer, ever, in Rock Hill called "Tank." His name was Thomas Gordon to family, but to the Rock Hill cops, this guy the size of a Sherman Tank was "Tank."
He worked for about 25 years starting in 1974, and he blocked out the sun.
And when Tank died Saturday after a long illness at age 62, the cops did what they do when one of their own passes on. The eight members of the Rock Hill Police Department who make up the honor guard polished the brass and leather on their dress uniforms, the special uniform complete with hat just like Tank wore on the beat downtown with his whistle, and prepared to stand at honor any time the casket was open to the people who knew Tank. They put black bands over their police shields to show one of them was gone.
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They stood, rotating every 15 minutes, through the hours of the Tuesday night visitation.
"It was beautiful," said Sharon Gordon, Tank's niece. "It made it so special."
Then Wednesday, at Cedar Grove Baptist Church just over the county line in Chester, the officers stood all afternoon.
Some of them hadn't even started working as officers when Tank retired, but they stood anyway. That is what these cops do when one of their own dies. One of their own who had helped so many battered women, who had caught so many dope dealers, held so many hurt kids. One who was gentle and humble despite his large size. One whose huge family sat in the middle pews at the church during the funeral, successful in their lives and safe because of what Tank did on those mean streets.
The officers honored him for that, in silence, 15 minutes at a time next to the casket. For hours.
They even showed up early to rehearse, just to be perfect.
Officer Jim Grayson stood there as the church started to fill. Then Paul Myers went up, and Adam Nemtuda. Michael Johnson, then Trista Baird, and Danny Burkhart. Mac McCarley, and Leland Harrelson.
"You show that what Tank stood for, for protecting the community," said McCarley, the veteran officer, speaking for all. "People knew him. Respected him. This is the ultimate show of respect for what he did."
When the funeral was going on, during the crying, the police honor guard stood stone-faced. None flinched. They stood silent and at attention during the hymns. One would walk to the casket, and with square turns, military precision, change places with the one before. They stayed until it was over, folded the American flag that was draped over the casket, and let Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory present it to Tank's family in a thank-you for a lifetime of service.
But there was an officer who spoke Wednesday who is also retired, and could fit in no honor guard uniform still in existence. Only he could tell the story of Tank. A man with another perfect nickname, Lash. Leonard "Lash" LeRoux, like Tank, the size of an apartment building. In the 1970s, the two were partners. How a police car fit them both, nobody knows.
"Tank was known for his radio calls, calling in with a license tag number," Lash LeRoux told the crowd, who had already started to laugh because this was the Tank they knew. Only the honor guard did not laugh.
Like a brother
"We had to use a word for the letter, alpha for A, Bravo for B, and so on. But Tank used what he was thinking at any given time. No Bravo for B for him. I still remember the call-in: 'We got Burger Burger Fries pulled over on Main Street.' "
Then Lash LeRoux, big partner of Big Tank, said that Tank was his brother. Not related, but just as close.
"Law enforcement is family," LeRoux said, and the honor guard still stood stone-faced. "Tank was a great police officer. A great man."
And then when it was over the honor guard went home, and many got ready to work a night shift or late shift. The honor guard is an honor. It is not done on duty. It is done off-duty, for hours, to honor a guy such as Tank Gordon who did so much for so many as a cop.