They may not be felt by all Americans, but the heartache and after-effects of Sept. 11, 2001, live on.
Few know that better than the family and friends of Culpeper County resident Saul Charles “Seahawk” Tocker, 51, who died Dec. 20 of cancer caused when he combed for clues through the Pentagon’s wreckage after terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Defense Department headquarters in Arlington.
But Tocker, a supervisory investigative specialist with the FBI who was interred Monday in Culpeper’s Fairview Cemetery, didn’t want to be remembered with a downbeavacat note. Those who loved and appreciated him made that clear during his 11 a.m. graveside service.
FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke of his colleague’s zest for life, describing Tocker as a big, quick-witted guy with a warm laugh who stood by his colleagues.
“His teammates said they could always rely on him for help,” Wray said. “If you needed anything, if you were struggling, if you just needed to talk—Saul could put aside the burly, brusque, sarcastic Seahawk. He would really listen to you, and you could trust him.
“He could be your biggest critic—always in the interest of helping you—and your staunchest ally. To paraphrase an old saying, he had a way of telling someone ‘to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip—or not.’”
Tocker’s 24-year-old son, Zachary, told the hundred-plus FBI staff members, police officers, friends and family members in attendance that, “My dad wanted this to be a day of celebration.”
After being diagnosed with stage-four cancer, Tocker was given a year to live, Zachary said. But he fought on, winning four years more, and had some memorable adventures with family and friends along the way, his son and friends said.
Zachary Tocker encouraged all present to hail Saul for “kicking cancer’s ass over the last five years,” which brought a loud cheer and sustained applause from the crowd.
The service concluded with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” playing over a mobile PA system, echoing off the distant houses and hills of town. Journey was Saul's favorite band.
Earlier in the morning, dozens of law enforcement officials had begun converging on the cemetery, with Culpeper police directing traffic through town and greeting people as they arrived.
Shortly before the service started, about 70 FBI agents and lawmen from across the region lined the graveyard’s easternmost road, most wearing black coats and black face masks, and socially distancing from one another.
When Tocker’s widow, Laurice, arrived, with Zachary, daughter Rachel and other family members, they were escorted by Culpeper town Master Police Officer M.E. Grant on his motorcycle. Nearly two dozen in number, they assembled along the road and were led to the graveside by a bagpiper, in a kilt, piping a mournful tune and a six-person Prince William County Fire Department honor guard bearing two rifles and three flags.
Seven pallbearers carried the wooden casket, draped in the United States flag, to the grave.
Flying more flags, other honor guard members represented the Prince William Police Department, U.S. Park Police and Metro Washington Airport Authority during the service.
Madison County rabbi Rose Jacob welcomed everyone to the graveside service, and offered prayers in English and Hebrew.
She shared some words by Saul’s friend and neighbor Joe Sroka, written five years ago, soon after the Tocker’s family doctor diagnosed the FBI specialist with cancer.
Sroka, who himself later died at 51, highlighted Saul and Laurice’s happy 20-year marriage, calling them “two peas in a pod,” Jacob said.
“The two love each other, love their family, love life, and as their friends, we are fortunate to know them,” Sroka wrote. “They have contagious personalities and senses of humor which make problems disappear when you are around them.”
To Tocker’s mother, Sandee Stein, Jacob said: “You are experiencing a loss that no mother should have to endure. Please take solace in knowing you raised a true mensch. The word ’mensch’ in Yiddish means a person of integrity and honor, and that describes Saul perfectly.”
On being told of Tocker's death, Director Wray interrupted his Christmas holiday to fly in for his funeral in Culpeper.
The FBI director noted that Tocker’s FBI travels took him across the country from the Florida Keys to Manly, a tiny town in Alaska. “I have to believe those Bureau trips had an extra special meaning to Saul,” he said. “In talking with his wife, Laurice, just last week, I learned that she was previously a travel agent for the Bureau. In fact, that’s how they met.”
Wray said Tocker went by “Seahawk,” a nickname given to the diehard Seattle Seahawk fan, “the loudest, proudest fans in professional football.” He even decorated for the holidays with a Seahawks-themed Christmas tree, the director noted. And his FBI code name, for radio communication, was Seahawk.
Wray said Tocker told him, in a conversation in October, “how glad he was to have been part of something bigger than himself.”
He didn’t want to talk about himself, but about others, Wray said. A member of the Washington Field Office’s Special Surveillance Group since 1995, he spoke of “How much he’d loved the SSG mission, and how important it was that the younger folks learned to carry out that mission the right way,” Wray said.
The director recounted how an all-hands call went out for assistance after terrorists attacked the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
“Saul didn’t hesitate to respond. He didn’t have to go, but he wanted to help,” Wray said. “On 12-hour shifts, day in and day out, he sifted through debris.
“Everyone at the FBI had one goal in mind on that tragic day: to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again. Saul shared that same sense of resolve,” he said. “And throughout Saul’s illness, even in its darkest days, he carried that same resolve with him. Resolve to be there for his family for as long as he could. To push forward with the utmost optimism.
“In the past few years we have really begun to understand—and to witness—the long-term effects of the FBI’s work after 9/11 and the full extent of the sacrifices that our first responders made,” Wray continued. “We’ve lost far too many members of the FBI family due to 9/11-related illnesses. And we’re by no means alone. Our brothers and sisters in law enforcement, firefighting, and first response have also suffered devastating losses—and we all fear there are more to come.
“So as we gather here today, we remember these selfless men and women, like Saul,” the director concluded. “And we take inspiration from their example and the sacrifices they heroically made for all of us.”
Wray recited a beautiful Jewish poem written to comfort mourners, which includes these lines:
“When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
“When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.
“So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
Tocker also worked on some of the most significant FBI cases in recent history, including the convictions of former FBI agents Earl Pitts and Robert Hanssen, who sold American secrets to Russia. Pitts lived in Spotsylvania County.
After Wray’s remarks, the bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and, later, “Auld Lang Syne.”
A seven-man rifle detail fired three volleys for a 21-gun salute. An FBI bugler played “Taps.”
An FBI friend of Tocker’s, with other teammates, sounded “Last Call” over their handheld radios, ushering in two FBI helicopters that flew swiftly over the gravesite.
Then, FBI police officers lifted the U.S. flag from the casket, folded it crisply and presented it to Wray, who gently handed it to Laurice Tocker.
Jacob led mourners in the Lord’s Prayer, the casket was lowered into the grave, and family and friends, one by one, carefully placed Israeli soil—in keeping with Jewish custom—and red Virginia earth on top.
Afterward, at noon, Tocker's family and some of his friends went to Found and Sons Funeral Chapel, next to the cemetery, to share stories and photos of Saul. The COVID-limited gathering was livestreamed.