Hearing My Daddy’s Voice

photo of a brass plaque with a red rose above it. The plaque reads "J.E. Pence, Jr. Apr. 6, 1970" The title is "Hearing My Daddy's Voice."

A few months ago the California Highway Patrol got in touch with me.  I was told that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Academy Museum in Sacramento had updated their display devoted to the Newhall Incident, in which my daddy and three other officers lost their lives (see my review of Brandishing for the background on this).  The CHP wondered if my family would like to attend the dedication, tour the museum and maybe even donate some memorabilia.

I don’t have much memorabilia from that time, so I didn’t want to give anything up.  I forwarded the email to my mom and brother.  I also wasn’t interested in attending the event.  I knew it would be very emotional and I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

A couple of weeks before the event, I got a message from my Uncle Bob (my daddy’s brother).  He had also been invited to the event and wanted to know if I would be attending.  I told him I would go if he was going.  Then my brother messaged me and said he was also attending.  He was sending an RSVP at that moment.  I asked him to add Art and I to the guest list.  I decided with that much family support, I should go.

When we arrived at the Academy the morning of the event, I found out that it was an annual memorial service for all fallen CHP officers.  We got there early so Uncle Bob took us through the exhibit before the ceremony began ( he had toured it the night before).

At the “entrance” to the exhibit, there were two pillars,  each with photos of the fallen four officers and their bios.

a photo of the author standing next to a pillar with her father's photo and bio
Me with my daddy’s bio

Along the walls was a timeline of the incident:

photo on the left is of multiple police and other cars with the title "4 CHP OFFICERS SLAIN". Photo on the right is of a timeline with the title "The Newhall Incident".

There was a video playing on a loop.  It explained the incident and interviewed one of the widows as well as some of the people who had arrived on the scene afterward.  My uncle leaned over and whispered, “When you hear an officer’s voice come over the radio, that’s your Daddy Skip.”  The voice yelled “shots fired” and I instantly knew.  Even though I hadn’t heard his voice since I was three years old.  I was hearing my daddy’s voice.  It was a blend of my uncle and my brother.  I wanted to sit on the bench in front of the video and listen to it over and over, just so I could hear his voice again.

I pulled myself together so we could take our seats at the memorial ceremony.  I had never been to one before.  It was very special.  The governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general were there.  There were speeches and beautiful music. The names of every fallen officer were read.  There was a 21 gun salute and CHP helicopters flew over in formation.

Around the fountain in the courtyard of the Academy, there is a brass plaque for each fallen officer.  At the end of the ceremony, each of us who had a fallen loved one was given a rose to put on that person’s plaque.  One of the four officers from the Newhall incident had no loved ones present, so we made sure his plaque got a rose as well.

photo of four plaques for the four slain officers with roses over each plaque

I stood next to Nikki Frago, the Newhall widow in attendance.  Obviously it was a very emotional time for her as well.  She didn’t have any family with her, so I took her hand for a few minutes.

photo of the author holding the hand of one of the Newhall widows

A little bit later, we walked through the exhibit again and spoke to some of the retired CHP officers.  It was a very emotional day, but I am so glad I went.  It felt good to pay tribute to my daddy and the other officers.  It was nice to know they will not be forgotten.

My brother Jay, his wife Jennie, me and Uncle Bob
My brother Jay, his wife Jennie, me and Uncle Bob

4 thoughts on “Hearing My Daddy’s Voice

  1. Such a wonderful and very emotional day for all. I am so glad that they did this for all of you.

  2. Wow! What a story! You are a sweetheart in my eyes. Bless you! I am also an elderly woman, and I so appreciate your kindness to the widow.

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