Crime & Justice

LAPD honors one of its own who died in Afghanistan

Cottle's casket in procession
Cottle's casket in procession
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Relatives, friends, US Marines, and hundreds of LAPD officers mourned the loss of Los Angeles SWAT officer and Marine Reservist Robert J. Cottle Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles. 45-year-old Robert James Cottle was the first LAPD officer killed during military service in Afghanistan.

Two mules pulled a wagon that bore Cottle’s flag-draped coffin away from Los Angeles Police Headquarters. Retired LAPD officer Todd Rheingold was among the hundreds of mourners who followed behind it.

“The guy was just a gentleman," said Rheingold. "He was a throw-back gentleman, somebody from the 40s or 50s or something… that you wouldn't mind introducing to your daughter or your sister.”

LAPD officer RJ Cottle's funeral procession from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

RJ Cottle casket moving from wagon to cathedral from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Rheingold was one of Cottle’s drill instructors at the police academy 20 years ago. They later worked together on LAPD’s elite SWAT unit. Rheingold remembered Cottle as very serious when the moment called for it. But at other times, he said, the officer dropped humorous “RJ- isms” into his speech.

"He would always say ‘Stay frosty, gents,’ whenever he left you," said Rheingold. "Or he’d always sneak away and try and eat a couple of Twinkies. That was his big thing. And he was only 148 pounds, but he called himself 148 pounds of twisted steel."

Cottle enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983. The veteran of two tours in Iraq was a Marine reservist in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when a roadside bomb took his life. Another Southland Marine, 19-year-old Lance Corporal Rick Centanni of Yorba Linda, died in the same incident.

Leah Norman of Sun Valley joined a small group of onlookers who watched the casket arrive at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

"There’s not enough people standing here," she lamented as she cried. "Not enough people here."

Leah Norman didn’t know R.J. Cottle, but she wore a button that pictured her 18-year-old son, an Army private who’s in Iraq.

"How many times do we ever get to see a hero close up like this?" she asked, as her tears continued. "They’re not on television shows, they’re not in the sports. These are the real people because they’re on the front line."

Robert J. Cottle leaves behind a wife who’s a naval officer and a 9-month-old daughter. His burial is scheduled for Friday at Arlington National Cemetery outside the nation’s capital.