On July 23rd, 1968 the Cleveland Division of Police suffered it’s bloodiest day. Three Cleveland Police Officers and one civilian “Good Samaritan” gave their lives protecting the residents of Cleveland. Thirteen other Officers and a Police Tow Truck Driver were wounded, and one Officer remained paralyzed and ultimately died of his wounds years later. The residents of the Glenville neighborhood where this tragic event occurred suffered through that night of warfare, just as the Police Officers did. This is the story of one such family as seen through the eyes of their fifteen-year-old son.
My life living at 1424 Lakeview Road started there on the day of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral, November 1963. The first thing we moved into the home was our black and white T.V. set, so we could watch the funeral as we moved the rest of the furniture in. I remember that the street was quiet and had trees on both sides of the street.
Fast forward to July 1968:
It was a hot, humid day on July 23, 1968. My mother (Wilma), older brother (Kenneth), older sister Wanda) and I lived at 1424 Lakeview Road in Cleveland, Ohio. My future brother-in-law (Richard Proctor) had just come home from a 13-month tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
This was the age of unrest during the 60’s Civil Rights and Vietnam era. Our house had a front porch and Lakeview Road was a relatively busy residential street that ran between Superior Avenue and Euclid Avenue. There were mostly houses on one side and apartment buildings on the other side. Scattered in between the houses were a dry cleaner, a bar and grocery store that were located right across the street from our house.
My mother, sister and future brother-in-law were sitting on our front porch, which was typical during hot summer evenings. I was taking a bath, getting ready to take a ride on my “moped” with my next-door neighbor (Larry Underwood). He had a “moped” also. We had met a couple girls earlier that day and promised we’d take them for a ride later that early evening.
My mother knocked on the bathroom door and told me that something odd was happening outside. I ask, “what?” She said there are guys marching outside. I responded with, it’s those “Nationalists drill marching again.” Then she said, “Get out the tub, they have GUNS!” With that, I got out the bathtub, got dressed and looked out the living room windows. Sure enough, on both sides of the street in front of our house there were young black males wearing “Dashikis” and armed with long rifles.
Then a Cleveland Police car drove up and as the officers were exiting, the above males pointed their rifles towards the officers and opened fire! The officers, jumped back into their zone car, not bothering to close the car doors, and sped off, causing the car doors to slam shut by themselves!
We recall there were drums we could hear beating for days prior to July 23rd. During this time, after the “Hough Riots” (between 1966 to1968) there were many Muslims and Black Nationalists that moved to our neighborhood. The neighborhood HAD changed – we discovered later that the drums were the calls of war, not just making music.
After the first shots of gunfire, it became an all-out urban war zone! As more police arrived, more exchanges of gunfire continued and increased.
When the police broke down and entered our side/rear door. My mother opened our inside back door, to see who was breaking the door down. That’s when a young Officer pointed his shotgun at my mother (not knowing who he was dealing with and my Mom not knowing who had broken in). Then other officers proceeded to the 2nd floor (unoccupied dwelling) and used it as a ‘Field of Fire’ after shooting out the streetlights that (illuminated the officers taking cover.)
These Officers then told us to move to the basement, out of harm’s way. We complied at first, then thought if our house caught on fire, as other homes/apartments begin to catch on fire, we’d be trapped down there, so we came back to the first floor and laid low and crawled on the floor. My future brother-in-law (Richard) said of all the “Fire Fights” he was involved in while in Vietnam, NONE had lasted as long as this battle has!
We closed all the windows and doors and relied only on a fan to feel some relief from the heat and humidity. On occasion, when my mom wasn’t looking at me, I would sneak a peek out the windows where I saw young males who couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 years old – I was turning 16 years old that October. They were dressed in African garb and firing rifles like they were seasoned warriors! I later learned from my future brother-in-law that those rifles were M-16’s, which the U.S. Army issued and he’d just used them in Vietnam!
Apartment buildings caught on fire and some of our neighbors ran out of their homes. Other policemen were being felled by bullets. One was shot, and we saw him rolling around in the street, and eventually he found cover under a car that was parked on the street.
The Militants used the down officers as “bait” to draw other officers out in the open attempting to rescue them.
Meanwhile, we called my older brother (Kenneth 22 years old) who was at his girlfriend’s house and told him to stay there and not to come home. We kept in touch with him by phone. The gunshots were intense and rapid as both sides were shooting at each other. Once in a while, all of us would take a chance and look out a window. We looked out at one time right at the moment when a police officer was shot as he walked in the open toward the apartment building where the Nationalists were. When my sister and mother saw him get shot, they both screamed! My older brother was on the phone and heard the screams and broke loose from his girlfriend’s mother’s house and drove home. He parked his car away from the action and jumped over fences to come through our back door. Blessed for a black, un-uniformed young man to be out there in that, and made it to safety, WOW!”
A young Mr. Chapman, a neighbor of ours, came out of his house to try to pull a wounded policeman to safety and was shot and killed himself. Many years later, my sister (Wanda) worked with the widow of that man who lost his life at the age of 22 and who left two young daughters and a wife behind.
Fire Trucks/Fire Fighters were unable to get to the burning homes because they were being shot at, as well. Finally, a Brinks armored truck came in to pull the injured and deceased policemen out the street.
During the night, our phone rang off the hook from family and friends asking how we were doing. And a news station called from New York City. The news station had pinpointed our location and called us to see if we were close to the shootout. We just held the phone up to the window and let him hear the sounds of gun shots and bullets hitting our home. My sister (Wanda19 years old) talked with the station and gave as much information as she could.
The fighting continued all night. The National Guardsmen, along with armored tanks were brought in and finally the apartment building was infiltrated and most of the perpetrators were captured. We learned that those who occupied the apartment building had dug a tunnel to the bar that was located right across the street from us. This made it difficult to find the perpetrators who were thought to be in the apartment building when they were hiding in the bar or the tunnel.
When the sun finally came up the next morning, there was a cease fire. We got off the floor and looked around our house to see what damage had been done. But a lone “sniper” still remained hidden and was arrested the next day, after attempting to snipe more officers.
My sister’s wedding dress (that she would wear less than two months later) was hanging inside her bedroom’s closet. Bullets fired at our house and at the police officers punctured the inside wall JUST inches from her wedding grown.
There were so many shell casings on the ground and front porch, and bullet holes on the exterior of our home, (some interior) it looked like a true war zone, but it was just that…a war zone. We discovered that many businesses on Superior Avenue had been burned to the ground and/or looted.
Oh by the way, about one of those Cleveland Policemen who advised me and my family to stay laying on the floor for our own protection – Well, years and years later, after I became a Cleveland Policeman, while working the 3rd. shift, I listened to my then Sergeant talk about shielding a family caught up in that mess. Turns out that Sergeant was William Traine (aka Choo choo), and that family was MINE and ME. Sergeant Traine told that story a thousand times to his teenage sons who (Years Later) also became Cleveland Police Officers.
After the two of us shared our SAME stories, we both hugged and cried – me thanking him and he thanking me for turning out to be a copper and serving with him.
And even later on in my police career, I learned another Cleveland Police co-worker was saved on July 23 by my then next door neighbors,(the Underwoods) who pulled a Police Officer into their home and hid him in the basement while several militants were hot on his heels. That officer’s name is James Moser, Badge Number 839.
For my family and I, July 23rd, 1968 will have forever made an ever lasting impression on what Fear, Courage, and Sacrifice really means for those Officers that were at times OUT MANNED, OUT GUNNED and AMBUSHED, along with all the other decent, hardworking, honest, God Fearing folk that lived in our once quiet neighborhood, from the beginning to the end of that hellish ordeal.
My life has continued to be a “Roller Coaster Ride” (in one way or another ). I can honestly say this, “What a RIDE it’s BEEN… I’ve Never been BORED”!
Don Strother, Ret. Sgt./ C.P.D.
Donald J. Strother graduated from John Hay High School in 1971 and joined the U.S. Marines soon after. He served two years of active duty and then four years of inactive service.
He joined the University Circle Police Department in 1974, serving for five and one-half years. He was appointed to the Cleveland Division of Police on January 28, 1980 and was assigned Badge Number 777. During his tenure he served in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Districts, Detective Bureau, and Mounted Unit. After he was promoted to Sergeant on May 18, 1995 he served in the Office of Professional Standards, Sex Crimes Unit, and Internal Affairs. His last assignment was as the Officer-In-Charge of the Mounted Unit.
He was given the responsibility of finding a way to maintain a Mounted Unit presence while the Police Officers were transferred to other assignments. He organized a movement to save the Unit that was made up of local civilian business contributors and civilian volunteers, “Friends of the Cleveland Police Mounted Unit.” He also organized Mounted Unit Fund Raisers and the FIRST “100 Horse Civilian Horse Ride” through downtown Cleveland. He was the last Officer to walk out and lock the door.
Sergeant Strother retired on April 1, 2005. He and his wife Reggie built a small horse farm in Montville Twp. Ohio for three of his retired/adopted Mounted Police Horses. After residing there for seven years, they chose to move to sunny Arizona to escape the snow and cold of northeast Ohio. There they are “… HOT but happy…” along with their remaining two horses and their dog.
An UPDATE FROM DON on July 19th, 2020:
My “Midnight” horse celebrated his 27th Birthday! As always, I got him his “personal carrot cake! He LOVES that cake.
One year (2003) while he and I were guest at a Merrill Lynch Hunter Jumper Classic “Children’s Day Event” I baked him a “Betty Crocker Carrot Cake” for his 11th Birthday. He had over 50 kids that celebrated with him! 😁
Some of my horses (past and present would prefer whole carrots and peppermints instead of CAKE…Not “Midnight” he LOVES CAKE!!!
~Az. Don & Crew, 👫🐎🐎