Former Virginia governor remembers troopers who died in Charlottesville

The following is an excerpt from our project Charlottesville: One Year Later. Yahoo News spoke to over a dozen people connected to the deadly August 2017 about how things have changed over the past 12 months. To read the rest of their stories, click here.

Between the funerals for Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, Gov. Terry McAuliffe gathered with members of the state police at a Richmond bar favored by Bates for “an Irish wake for the two Irishmen,” toasting the fallen troopers with Jameson Irish whiskey.

Cullen was McAuliffe’s pilot, and Bates was a longtime member of his security detail.

“They were part of the family,” McAuliffe says. “It was very painful. I cannot tell you how close we were. These folks live with you all day, 24/7. It was like losing a family member.”

McAuliffe had just landed in Charlottesville when he learned their helicopter had crashed.

“They were doing surveillance the whole day. They started early, at 7, 8 in the morning. And they really were in the air,” McAuliffe says. “In fact, that’s why they didn’t come get me. The northern Virginia folks actually brought me down in their helicopter, because they really were all day doing surveillance. And they did. They had footage of the car going into the crowd.”

That footage is expected to be used in the case against James Alex Fields Jr., who is charged with a federal hate crime in the death of Heather Heyer and 28 related counts stemming from injuries to others in the car attack.

Earlier in the day, McAuliffe briefed President Trump on the escalating situation in Charlottesville.

“I had told him we have white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and alt-right screaming vulgarities and all types of things against fellow citizens down there,” McAuliffe says.

Trump, though, did not unequivocally condemn the neo-Nazis. His statement blamed the violence on “both sides.”

“I was astounded, because in my conversation with him, I had briefed him on the situation, told him about these horrible people,” McAuliffe recalls. “They are hateful people. I won’t even mention to you what they were screaming at the African-American members of the community as well as members of the Jewish community. I just wondered to myself, ‘How did we get to this place in America?’ These folks used to wear hoods to disguise themselves. But here they were in Charlottesville. They didn’t feel like they needed to wear hoods. They could just walk down this beautiful little town and scream obscenities and telling members of the Jewish faith that we should burn you like we did in Auschwitz. Things you just really found just hard to comprehend.”

At his press conference, McAuliffe sharply condemned the violence.

“I basically told these folks to go home,” he says. “They’re not wanted. They pretend they’re patriots. They’re not patriots. They’re a bunch of cowards. And to get the hell out of America.”

Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is embraced by a state trooper after the funeral for Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates in Richmond, Aug. 18, 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is embraced by a state trooper after the funeral for Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates in Richmond, Aug. 18, 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The weekend after Charlottesville, McAuliffe spoke at the funerals for both Cullen and Bates.

“It won’t be the same when I step into that helicopter without Jay in the right front seat, with ‘Cullen’ on the back of his helmet,” McAuliffe told more the than 1,200 mourners at his funeral.

During the service, police helicopters from nine states flew over the church one by one, repeating the tribute conducted for Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates’s funeral the day before.

“He was a real character,” McAuliffe recalls before relaying his favorite story about Bates.

“My son had been deployed to Iraq. He’s a Marine. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the lobby of the governor’s mansion, about to go out for the day, and I was talking to Berke. And he said, ‘I want you to know I just sent a care package to your son.’ I thought razor, cigar, that sort of stuff. I said, ‘How nice of you, Berke.’ And he said, ‘I sent him a bottle of Irish whiskey.’ And I said, ‘Burke, it’s a Muslim country. You can’t have alcohol in a Muslim country.’ And he said, ‘Oh no, no, no, don’t you worry about that, governor. I put it in a Listerine bottle. They’ll never figure it out.’” T

The care package was delivered, but the bottle never quite made it.

According to McAuliffe, Bates had left his detail about two months earlier for the aviation unit.

“His dream had always been to fly,” McAuliffe says. “And he went and with his own money bought the manuals to learn how to fly a helicopter. He’d only been in the air probably a month. But he died doing exactly what he loved to do.”

“To lose their lives because of an incident, because people came in to spew hatred — it has to be a learning moment,” he adds. “How do we go on? How do we go forward from here?”


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