Guardians of Sands & Sea

By: 
Roberto Vazquez
THE FINAL SENDOFF – In the tradition of Long Beach Lifeguards, those memorialized guardians are united in death, as in life, with the sands and sea.

Dick Miller has lived a long, wonderful life. At 88, he is still very much alive and well, but on this particular day, surrounded by a half dozen of his closest friends, Dick Miller’s mind is preoccupied.

Miller knows that in a few, short minutes he will be called to duty, once again, to do something that pains him a great deal.

Born in 1933, Miller has lived through some of the most important Long Beach history. He tells a reporter, “We were earthquake kids,” in reference to the temblor that damaged a large part of Long Beach that same year.

On this day, each of the men seated around Miller is a connection to a past Long Beach embodied by honor, integrity and sacrifice.

They are the elder statesmen of the Long Beach Lifeguard Service.

It’s early evening on Thursday, Sept. 2. The breeze is light and fresh, the sun is just above the horizon and the darkness of evening is imminent.

A large group of family, friends and colleagues have arrived at the Long Beach Lifeguard Museum to eat, drink and celebrate a history rich in both tradition and ceremony.

On this day, the sound of light banter and peals of laughter rise up into the ether. There are plenty of hugs and smiles, food and drink are served, and a feeling of love and camaraderie fills the air.

However, the moment finally arrives and duty once again beckons Dick Miller to stand, microphone in hand and begin the ceremony they’ve all come to witness.

As Miller slowly begins to read aloud the words of the lifeguard’s prayer, a heavy silence falls over the crowd.

The lightness and festiveness only moments before has been washed away by a solemn wave.

This is a ceremony held annually at the Long Beach Lifeguards Museum, in honor of those deceased guardians of the sands and sea, for years of service and all the lives they saved.

On this day, there are eight men whose lives will be honored, lives defined by a commitment to the sands and sea.

On this day, they will be symbolically cast into an eternal resting place with a prayer and a ritual, thereby reuniting them with the sea, in death, as in life.

This year, the departed guardians being honored are:

  • Norm Abbott
  • Dean Ashbrook
  • Richard Clements
  • Tom Donahoe
  • Dr. Mike Garrison
  • Kobe Jackson
  • Roy “Bunny” Miller, Jr.
  • Bill Seldita

Miller, as an elder statesman, begins reading the prayer, slowly, pained by the sad duty he must perform once again. Titled, “So That Others May Live,” he reads:

“When I am called to duty, God, wherever water may rage, give me the strength to save some life, whatever its age…”

As Miller continues reading, his voice thickens with emotion.

“Help me embrace a little child before it is too late, or, save an older person from the horror of that fate…”

Sniffles break the silence, heads bow in deference and Miller’s grief has become palpable. He is a man who has simply experienced too much loss in his lifetime.

“Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout, and quickly and efficiently help my victim out…”

The moments tick by in heavy silence, shrouded in loss and the unspoken memories of youth and better times.

The lightness that was present just moments before is no longer, pushed away by an impartial, timeless battle, the ebb and flow of life and death.

Miller is nearly inundated by a tide of emotion, threatening to drown him in sadness.

Clearing his throat, he fights against the emotional current, admirably refusing to stop. He is determined to finish his watch, his obligation to his brothers of the sands and sea, no matter how difficult it may be for him.

“I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me, to guard my every neighbor and to hear every plea…”

What has started as a group of individuals is now one soul, united, hearing every word, sharing every breath, feeling every bit of his emotional pain.

It’s a poem both sad and dignified, but above all, it is beautiful.

A transcendent feeling of love and camaraderie has come to the rescue, the kind of emotion which can only be forged in battle, in loss, or decades of friendships.

Miller concludes,

“And if according to your will I should lose my life, please bless with your hand my victim’s life.”

Amen.

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