An American flag draped Herbie Johnson’s regular seat at the Cork and Kerry Pub on Western Avenue. An open bottle of Johnson's favorite beer--Bud Light--sat on the bar top.
“There’s a lot of flag draped chairs in bars all over this neighborhood,” a patron cracks wise about fun-loving Herbie, the bigger-than-life, CFD fire captain who died in the line of duty on Nov. 2.
Bartender Debra dabs her eyes with a napkin as she watches Johnson’s funeral on one of the many flat-screen TVs in the bar.
“I knew Herbie for ten years. He came in here every Friday that he wasn’t on duty and sat in that chair over there,” she says, pointing to the flag-draped stool in the corner beneath the woodcut of an Irish setter.
Another man reminisces about the time a priest saw an RV parked behind St. Rita High School and thought a homeless person had moved in, but it was only Herbie, arriving early to set up his tailgate party before a St. Rita’s football game.
There was some laughter but mostly silence inside the Cork and Kerry on Western Avenue before Herbie Johnson’s funeral procession passed by on its way to Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Across the street, the St. Rita High School lacross team gathers at 106th Street and Western Avenue. One student is draped in a City of Chicago flag. Another student has made a sign: “Thank-you, Capt. Johnson. God bless the CFD.”
Toddlers slung atop dads’ shoulders also begin to arrive. Both sides of Western Avenue begin to fill with community members. The men from Cork and Kerry step outside holding cups of beer.
Down the street, a long row of Chicago police white SUVs with blue flashing lights leads the motorcade for Herbie Johnson.
Helmeted Chicago police officers on motorcycles escort a fire truck covered in funeral wreathes, each symbolic of some aspect of Johnson’s life, followed by a second fire truck bearing his casket covered by a City of Chicago flag, with his helmet and jacket fastened to the front grill.
Three off-duty Chicago firefighters snap a salute at the passing fire truck. The laughing boys from St. Rita’s grow suddenly subdued.
The two-mile procession of fire engines representative of departments from throughout the Chicago region, and even a company from Louisville, KY, follow the sad cargo.
“All those cars and trucks are never going to fit into Mt. Olivet. It’s too small,” Debra says.
The men return back to the bar where coverage of Johnson’s funeral fills the flat-screens. Outside the suburban fire trucks continue to roll down Western Avenue. It’s getting on toward 3 p.m.
“He’s f-----g up rush hour and he’s probably somewhere laughing about it,” a patron says.
“Herbie wouldn’t want any of this,” Debra says. “He didn’t even want anybody to know when he made captain.”
A memorial fund has been established and will benefit the Johnson family.
Read More Coverage:
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- A Funeral Befitting a Fallen Hero
- Thousands Gather at Capt. Herbie Johnson's Wake
- Memorial Fund Established For Capt. Herbie Johnson's Family
- Photos: A Neighborhood in Mourning
- Veteran Chicago Firefighter Dies on Duty