Friday, Morton, an East Moline police officer killed in the line of duty on May 25, 1969, had visitors.
"He is our only one," police Chief John Reynolds said Friday as he stood in his dark blue dress uniform atop Riverside Cemetery's huge hill, next to Morton's grave. The ceremony remembering the fallen officer would begin soon at the cemetery mausoleum. Saturday is the 50th anniversary of his death.
Morton was shot in the chest by Daniel Hougas, while Morton and his partner, Bob Butcher, were handling a disturbance call at Hougas' home, according to news reports from the time. The officers went there because someone reported Hougas was outside with a weapon. Morton and Butcher met Hougas, talked to him and got what turned out to be a BB gun from Hougas. Hougas, however, also had a revolver and began shooting, hitting Morton. The wounded officer and Butcher then shot Hougas, who was in his 80s, killing him. Morton later died as doctors performed surgery on him.
Outside the mausoleum, rifle-equipped officers practiced the different steps of a gun salute, all of which would become smooth motion when they performed it during the ceremony. Nearby, a piper practiced with his bagpipes, filling the air with their sonorous wail to ready himself for his performance at the event. Inside, a flag guard also practiced their careful, measured approach and placement for the U.S. and Illinois flags. That ceremony opened the event shortly after.
Reynolds, who had not been born when Morton was killed, said veteran East Moline officers tell new ones about Morton-- a cautionary tale about what it can mean when someone joins a police force. The department also remembers him through the ceremony, once intermittent, but now held annually. It is a "thank you" and another reminder of the dangers police officers face.
East Moline police Capt. Darren Gault spoke about those dangers during the ceremony's opening. Since the late 1700s, when the first known police death was recorded in America, more than 21,000 police officers have been killed in the line of duty.
In 2019, there have already been 44, seven of them in May, he said. He acknowledged the recent law enforcement deaths in Illinois, including several Illinois State Police troopers who have been killed in traffic collisions.
Thursday, police and sheriff's deputies from the Iowa and Illinois Quad-Cities joined their East Moline fellows to remember Morton. They were joined by Mayor Reggie Freeman, Butcher and others.
Freeman, who is a retired East Moline police chief, said he was working at a gas station in East Moline, just out of high school, and Morton and Butcher would come into the store.
"What a pleasant person and people to be around," he said.
Butcher said there a several important values in life: honor, respect, service and humility.
"They all describe Officer Richard Morton Jr.," Butcher said.
Reynolds said during the ceremony that officers put on the uniform and answer calls despite the danger. He thanked all officers who go out to keep their communities safe.
He also said the East Moline police have never forgotten Morton, and celebrate his courage and sacrifice.
"May our brother Officer Richard Morton rest in peace, God bless," Reynolds said.