BY WALLY SPIERS - News-Democrat
"It's a chance to get together, see people you haven't seen for a long time and talk about old times," Justus told the crowd.
The dinner attracts men and women from the Sheriff's Department, the Illinois State Police and police departments from surrounding towns.
Justus introduced this year's honored guest, Tommy O'Brien, 95, a longtime East St. Louis police officer and a friend of many in the crowd.
O'Brien said he retired from that department sometime in the early 1960s as a lieutenant colonel and the assistant police chief.
He now lives in Grand Manor in Swansea.
"I had five children, I had to work after I retired," he said.
With Justus' help, he said he got a job in security with Cerro Copper and later worked at the East St. Louis Federal Courthouse.
O'Brien joined the East St. Louis Police Department in 1939, he said.
"It was the height of the Depression. I needed a job. I tried for two years to get on at the fire department. When I came up, they switched me to the police department," he said.
He survived a long and distinguished career, which nearly ended one Christmas Eve at the old Broadview Hotel. It most likely was 1958 when he was 42, he said.
"We got a call about a guy in a room with a gun," O'Brien said. "We walked in the room and he had a gun in his hand. We were talking him out. My partner grabbed him and was struggling with him."
Still the man managed to shoot O'Brien five times, with one bullet missing an artery in his leg by just a whisker the doctors said.
Tommy said he figured that relieved him of his duty to hold fire so he shot and killed the man.
"He must have been mental," Tommy said.
Bob Frisse, another retired East St. Louis police officer, said Tommy had a phenomenal memory.
"If you brought a guy in and he saw him, he could remember where he had seen him in our book before," Frisse said. "He is a legend."