Warm breezes tinged the glistening grass near the parking lot around St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Brentwood, MO. Clusters of mourners shifted feet, gawked. Some smoked.

In the distance a fire truck glinted in the sun; behind it, the slow moving cortege inched its way toward the porte-cochere, then stopped. Uniformed firemen stood at attention as attendants guided the coffined remains of one of theirs onto a gurney. Inside the great oak doors three vested priests welcomed the recently deceased into his church-home with prayers and incensing and sprinkling with holy water, reminiscent of his baptism.

Noted for his soulful dark eyes, his forehead crinkling in mirth, his brogue, he taught others wherever he went: as a firefighter, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a neighbor. Forty-two years of practicing the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous also ennobled his character.

Stage IV leukemia, diagnosed in the spring of 2014, paradoxically, enlivened his willingness to undergo painful clinical trials at Siteman Center, knowing they would enable oncologists to help others suffering with his disease. Never did he complain. His frequent phone contacts with his network in the ICU, in the Leukemia Unit, or at home always ended with “Talk at cha later!”

But the fire of his disease eventually cleansed his soul for eternal life.

 At the conclusion of the Mass of Resurrection, the honor guard again stepped into the main aisle and snapped to attention. It was time for the Last Call. A crisp radio voice sounded throughout the church announcing the deceased’s name and passing, the same message broadcasted to all receivers on fire trucks, police cars, and emergency vehicles in the St. Louis Metro area. Then three gongs sounded on the portable fire bell. Silence hallowed the emptiness.

His name was Joe Bratcher.

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