As Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, New Orleans Police officers were heading in to work. None of them could imagine what was about to happen.
“Everyone was getting prepared. Everyone was taking it lightly. We’d been through this several times in New Orleans, and it’s not going to hit,” Officer Frank Robertson said.
Robertson, only two years on the force at the time, and Officer Kenneth Gill were both assigned to the NOPD’s First District.
“We eventually heard the levees had broken and the city was flooding,” Gill said.
“You know, we didn’t really know what we were going to do. At the time, the boats didn’t come to the station until a day or so later. That’s when we could start rescue missions,” Robertson said.
When the boats did arrive and the rescue missions began, the officers said they heard and saw the unthinkable.
“I saw people just floating," Robertson said. "I’ll never forget - I saw this elderly couple out near Lakeview, and they had a kid in there. Oh man, they didn’t leave. I met up with their daughter and she said she begged her parents to leave, but they wanted to stay and go through it together. Their grandchild had also perished with them. That taught me compassion.”
The officers said in so many ways, they felt helpless.
“We can’t even reach out to people, other than to scream something back at them that everything would be ok," Robertson said. "In my head, I’m trying to figure out if things would be ok for me. I kind of like, put myself on their side. I tried to be there for them.”
These officers never left, and they say Katrina changed them forever. Today, they wear proof of their bond in the form of a tattoo.
“As you can see, it says Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Police. And 1601 is my badge number. There’s a red number one in the center. It signifies the blood of the First District. I have Fort Apache written on this tattoo. If you know the story of Fort Apache, you’d know, those people never abandoned their post. We never abandoned the First District.”
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