Virgil Mikus deliberately sat near the back of the church Monday, behind the block of men and women in their dress blues, and he didn’t go up to hug the grieving widow when it was all over.
In his own quiet way, Mikus, a retired Chicago Police detective, came to Queen of Martyrs Church in Evergreen Park to honor a man who, 29 years ago, was shot instead of him and who finally succumbed to his injuries last week.
“I felt I needed to honor him,” said Mikus, after the black hearse — with 300 or so police officers frozen in white-gloved salutes — slowly pulled away with Chicago Police Officer Bernard Domagala’s body inside. “He was a true hero. He responded without hesitation and gave it his all.”
Mikus was a detective back on July 14, 1988, assisting in a standoff on the South Side. Cook County sheriff’s deputies were trying to evict Tommie Lee Hudson, a former Chicago cop, when he barricaded himself inside his home. Mikus and Domagala, part of department’s Hostage, Barricade and Terrorist Unit, were at the rear of the property — just a foot apart — when Hudson opened fire, missing Mikus but hitting Domagala in the forehead.
“We couldn’t see him inside,” Mikus recalled. “We never knew what was coming.”
Domagala, 37, stumbled backwards.
“When he fell back, I physically caught him and lay him on the ground,” Mikus, now 68, recalled. The detective then ran to get help.
Domagala survived, although he suffered serious brain damage.
“Many people in that position would let the extent of their injuries get the better of them, but not Bernie,” First Deputy Supt. Kevin Navarro said during Monday’s service.
“For almost three decades of traumatic brain injury complications, surgeries and therapies …, he spent his days telling stories about his two great loves: his family and his time at CPD. That’s what a true hero does when the deck is stacked against them.”
Others on Monday recalled a man of many skills, someone who loved to hunt, fish, make cabinets and bake cakes.
“What a mix of skills Bernie had,” said the Rev. Dan Brandt.
Mikus didn’t know any of that. He barely knew Domagala on that summer day back in 1988. And he hadn’t seen him since. Mikus has tried to distance himself from an event he called “the worst experience during my career.”
But he still felt the need to drive out from Peoria, where he now lives, to say goodbye.
“I just think how lucky I was not to be the one that day, and you wonder why it wasn’t me … because I was just as open as Bernie,” Mikus said.