At “80-and-a-half” years old, veteran Orange County law enforcement officer and retired Marine Corps Sgt. Major Robert F. Romaine still is in the game, working on cold-case homicides, missing persons and other crimes as a part-time investigator for the Garden Grove PD.
Romaine is more than 20 years removed from the career he credits with his professional and personal success: serving in the Marines.
“I was 13 years old when my mother died, and I never knew my father,” Romaine said of growing up in Newark, N.J.
“My story is the same as the other countless Marines: the Marine Corps kicked my ass, taught me how to be a man, and also taught me how to become a leader.”
Romaine, a master reserve officer with the Garden Grove PD, spent some time with Behind the Badge to talk about the importance of Veteran’s Day as well as Monday, Nov. 10 — when the Marine Corps marked its 239th birthday.
At Monday-morning briefing at police headquarters, as is customary every Nov. 10, Romaine, whose tours of duty span from the Korean War in 1952-54 to Desert Storm in 1990-91, shared cake with other officers and handed a slice to the youngest former Marine.
“I always get emotional, remembering all the guys we’ve lost,” Romaine said. “I owe a lot to the Marine Corps. It gave me everything I have.”
On Veteran’s Day, Romaine and his wife, Sue, and Mary Spadoni, a retired investigator with the Orange County D.A.’s Office, attended a community celebration in Costa Mesa hosted by the Orange County Employees Association.
Romaine, who has four children, two step-children and 13 grand-children, retired from the Marine Corps on March 11, 1994 after serving 32 years, six months and 27 days over a span of some 43 years — some on active duty and some as a reserve.
As a sergeant major for about 10 of those years, Romaine served as the unit commander’s senior enlisted advisor, handling matters of discipline and morale among the enlisted Marines.
At 57, Romaine was the oldest battalion sergeant major to serve in Desert Storm.
Romaine began his 55-year career in law enforcement in 1959 as a deputy for the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., and over the decades he’s handled numerous headline-grabbing cases as an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Laguna Beach PD and Garden Grove PD.
He’s worked as a part-time investigator for the Garden Grove PD since 1996, when his first assignment was serving on the second task force looking into the fatal shooting of Office Howard Dallies Jr. on March 9, 1993.
“This is one of the most professional law enforcement agencies in Orange County,” Romaine said of the Garden Grove PD. “The job they do here is phenomenal. The department has strong leadership and training.”
Romaine and his fellow master reserve officer at the Garden Grove PD, retired Sgt. Larry Ebelt, along with Garden Grove Police Detectives John Maciel and Mike Farley, pore through about 60 cold cases — doggedly sniffing down leads in a search for justice.
Romaine and his partners still are working on the Dallies case, which has yet to result in a prosecution of the killer.
“If we could bring truth and justice for his family,” Romaine said, “that would be great.”
On Monday, Romaine posed for a photograph in front of the Garden Grove PD’s “Fallen Five” memorial, which honors five officers who died in the line of duty —including Dallies.
Cops and those who serve in the U.S. military – to Romaine, they all are heroes, and they deserve to be honored not just on Veteran’s Day, but throughout the year.
Romaine’s cubicle at the Garden Grove PD is filled with files of homicide suspects and bulletins of missing persons suspected of running into foul play.
On one wall is a typed-message on simple white paper.
The message reads:
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’ That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.