By : Detective Frank Shankwitz – Retired
In 1972, the Arizona Highway Patrol decided to reestablish it’s motorcycle patrol program, sending the first group of officers to the California Highway Patrol Motor School in Sacramento. When those officers passed the program, they then attended the train the trainer motor school, returning to Arizona certified to train future motor officers.
I graduated from the Arizona Highway Patrol Academy in 1972, and was assigned to the Yuma, Arizona area as a car officer. In 1973 I was asked to apply for motor school and if passing, I would return to the Yuma area for a trial program on the use of motors in remote Arizona areas. I did pass motor school, and for the next year, was assigned to the Yuma area, patrolling mainly from Yuma to the Mexican border, which had a high rate of impaired drivers and drug smugglers. Our equipment then was the Moto Guzzi 850 Eldorado motorcycle.
In 1974 I was asked to join a new 10-man Motorcycle Tactical Unit, based in Phoenix, which would patrol the whole state of Arizona, usually in two man teams, two weeks in one area, then two weeks in another. Areas in the state that were seasonally high in traffic such as the Grand Canyon, Tombstone, Monument Valley, Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon, etc. with concentration on traffic violations that generally resulted in fatal accidents, along with drug smugglers. During this period the television show CHiPs, which was about the adventures of two California Highway Patrol Motorcycle Officers, Ponch and Jon, became very popular, especially with the younger grade school age group. My partner started noticing when we first rode into small towns, a lot of the young kids would wave and yell out, “Hi Ponch and Jon”, due to the fact our motorcycles and uniforms were almost identical to those of the California Highway Patrol. I requested permission from my supervisor, that when we had some slow time, to go to some of the local grade schools and talk about bicycle safety, and he agreed. It was a great PR tool, and the kids really enjoyed getting on the motorcycles.
In 1978, we were now riding Kawasaki KZ1000’s, our whole ten man team, along with several car units, were assigned to the Parker, Arizona area, which borders California, separated by the Colorado River, for Spring Break. The small town of Parker, population 2000, grows to 80,000 plus during Spring Break, mostly kids from the colleges throughout California. During our two week assignment, our unit investigated multiple fatal accidents, DUI and drug related arrests, rape, assaults, and homicides.
I was involved in a high speed chase of an obvious impaired driver, 80 mph in a 25mph zone, when another impaired driver ran a stop sign, and not being able to do an brake and escape maneuver, struck the vehicle broadside at 80 mph. I was later told the crash was spectacular.
My partner discovered I had no pulse and tried to revive me, without success, and notified dispatch I was a 963A, “Officer killed in the line of duty”. An off-duty emergency room nurse stopped at the scene and offered to help. My partner told her it was no use, I was already gone. Thankfully she didn’t listen to him, and for the next four minutes performed CPR, bringing me back to life.
The accident resulted in a tarmac brain injury, skull fracture, broken bones, and a lot of missing skin, requiring several months to recover, including counseling before being released to return to work, making sure I was OK to get back on the horse. One of the final things the counselor said to me was, “God spared you for a reason, now it’s up to you to find that reason”.
In April 1980 I found that reason. On motorcycle patrol in the mountains in northern Arizona, the dispatcher advised me to locate the nearest payphone and call in for an urgent message (no cell phones in 1980). Calling in, dispatch advised me that the patrol had been advised about a 7-year old boy named Chris, who had terminal leukemia, and only had a few weeks to live. Chris’ heroes were Ponch and Jon, from the television show CHiPs, and he told his mother when he grew up, he wanted to be a motorcycle officer like Ponch and Jon. A friend of the family, U.S. Customs Agent Tom Austin, called the patrol and asked if Chris could come to the Highway Patrol headquarters building in Phoenix, and meet a motorcycle officer, and I was the motorcycle officer they chose to meet him.
Chris was in one of the local Phoenix area hospitals, and with the permission of his doctor and mother, our Highway Patrol Ranger helicopter picked him up and flew him to our headquarters building, where I was standing by in the landing zone with my motorcycle. Knowing Chris had just come from his hospital, I expected our paramedics to help him out of the helicopter when landing. Instead, a little red pair of sneakers jumped out of the helicopter, ran over to my motorcycle, and asked if he could get on. Chris had a big grin on his face as he turned on the siren, red lights, flashers, and exploring what was in my saddlebags. I glanced at his mother and she was crying. At first I didn’t understand why, then it dawned me, she had her 7-year old typical boy back, not the one that had just left a hospital sick bed.
Chris went on that day to become the first Honorary Arizona Highway Patrol Officer, and after being sworn in, received his Sworn Certificate, a Smokey Uniform Hat, and his own Officer badge, which is still assigned to him today. Chris’ doctor, who was with him, told his mother to take him home instead of back to the hospital, as his vitals were so good.
We all felt good about what we had done for Chris, and one of the Officers mentioned that we have a new Officer, and he needs a uniform, which were custom made in those days. Officers went to the uniform shop and asked if a custom made uniform could be made for Chris. Two ladies spent all night making the uniform.
The next morning, I was authorized to lead several motorcycles and patrol cars to Chris’ residence, red lights and sirens blaring. Chris came running out of the house with a big grin, received his uniform, ran inside and was a quick change artist, coming out beaming in his new uniform. He came over to me and asked if he could get on my motorcycle, which he did. He then rubbed my uniform motorcycle wings and said, “I wish I could be a Motorcycle Officer”. That was the first time I heard the word, “Wish”. I explained to Chris the training motorcycle officers went through, and teasing, told him if he only had a motorcycle, we would set up traffic cones in his driveway and test him. Chris was a step ahead of me, he ran into the house and came riding out on a toy battery-operated motorcycle, advising he was ready for his test. Traffic cones were set up, which Chris maneuvered perfectly, and when completed, asked if he passed, and when informed he did, He asked, “When do I get my uniform wings?’ The uniform wings were custom made by a local jeweler, and I promised Chris I would get his wings.
Two days later, as I picked up the wings at the jewelers, dispatch advised me that Chris was in the hospital, in a coma, and was not expected to survive the day. I was authorized to go to his hospital for a final good-bye. When I entered his hospital room, I noted his uniform was hanging by his bed. Just as I pinned the wings on his uniform, he came out of the coma, smiled, and in a weak voice, asked for his uniform, rubbing the wings, asking if he was a Motorcycle Officer now. Telling him yes, he showed his mother. Chris’ wish had become true. Chris passed away a couple of hours later, and I hoped his motor wings helped carry him to heaven.
Our commanders learned that Chris was going to be buried in Kawanee, Illinois, a small town about 150 miles southwest of Chicago. They stated we had lost a fellow officer, and wanted myself and my motor partner, Officer Scott Stahl, to travel to Kawanee and give Chris a full police funeral. While they would authorize the travel as an official mission, they could not authorize travel expenses, and we would have to use our own vacation time and expenses for the travel. Both Scott and I agreed to accept the mission.
The local Phoenix area press learned of your mission, and reported we were traveling on our own expenses, not on state money. Because of that, donations started coming in, with enough money to at least cover both of our round-trip air fares to Chicago.
Arriving in Chicago, both the local press and TV networks were there to meet us, and wanted to report on our mission to bury our little Trooper. Chicago PD provided transportation while in Chicago. Two days later, when arriving in Kawanee, we were not only met by the press and TV affiliates out of Davenport, Iowa, but also members of the Illinois State Police, County Sheriff’s Office, and Kawanee Police Department, who all came to honor, and help bury our fallen Trooper. Chris was buried in his uniform, and his grave marker reads, “Chris Greicius – Arizona Trooper”.
Flying back to Arizona, I just started thinking, Chris had a wish and we made it happen, why couldn’t we do that for other children with terminal illnesses, “Let a child make a wish, and we’ll make it happen”.
Chris was the inspiration to start the foundation, which became official in November 1980, and I was the first President/CEO. To maintain the integrity of the foundation, I never accepted a salary.The first official wish was granted in March, 1981, with a 7-year old boy wanting to go to Disneyland, which brought nationwide recognition to the foundation. Since then, the mission has changed, to children with life-threatening illnesses, as per the grace of God and modern medicine, more children are surviving their life-threatening medical conditions. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has 60 chapters in the United States, and 45 International chapters on 5 Continents, and has granted over 500,000 wishes worldwide, all because of a 7-year old boy named Chris, who wanted to be a motorcycle officer.
The more in-depth story on creating and co-founding the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is available in my book, “Wish Man”, which is available via my website…wishman1.com and also on Amazon. The Hollywood, “Based On A True Story” feature film, “Wish Man” is available on Netflix and also via my website. The message of the movie is, “Everyone Can Be A Hero, Be Kind, Give Back”, which is what police officers do everyday, both on, and off duty.
Detective Frank Shankwitz – Retired
Arizona Department of Public Safety
The Creator and Co-Founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation
Information and Photos provided by Frank Shankwitz. Thank you Frank!!!