First Precinct Officers Say Ceremonial Goodbye to NYPD's Last Vietnam Vet

"Tommy" Ollis is given a warm farewell, one by one, from fellow First Precinct officers during a ceremonial "walkout" from the station house on Ericsson Place. At the end of the line stood his family members, looking on proudly. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 15, 2017

“How do you put it into words? It’s overwhelming.”

And so it was for Police Officer Thomas Ollis, who retired last Friday to a long blue line of hugs and well-wishes and the stirring sounds of pipes and drums during a “ceremonial walkout” from the First Precinct station house in Tribeca. All of his nearly 18 years on the force had been spent there.

Ollis, 66, received the special honor as the NYPD’s last Vietnam veteran and its third-oldest patrolman before becoming the station house facilities manager two years ago.

It was not an easy goodbye.

“This becomes a family and you don’t want to leave the family,” said Ollis, wiping away a tear. “I’ll miss the people I work with and being there for other people.”

A combat Army veteran who had been laid off from IBM after 21 years, Ollis was pushing 50 when he joined the NYPD.  A class action law suit against the city made it possible.

“I took the test because on the application at the time it said there is no maximum age for the job,” Ollis recalled in an interview with the Trib. “I was supposed to be in the class of ’97 but that October President Clinton signed a bill and one of the stipulations was that police departments can set an age limit. But they never stopped us from going through the processing.”

Ollis and other older applicants were denied access to their class at the Police Academy. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued, and eventually won.

“Two-and-a-quarter years later I’m running around the gym at 48 years old getting yelled at by people half my age,” he recalled with a laugh, “and I’m going, ‘What am I doing here?’”

Ollis recalled the then NYCLU director Norman Siegel telling the men who he had represented, pro bono: “The only payment I expect from you people is that when you’re on the job you do not violate somebody’s civil rights.”

For many of his years at the precinct, Ollis and his partner patrolled Fulton Street and the South Street Seaport. He couldn’t say how many arrests he has under his belt (“I just did my job. I wasn’t a numbers counter.”), but his fellow cops were quick to mention that he had saved the lives of two heart attack victims with CPR and a defibrillator, the only officer in the precinct with that distinction.

Ollis said his age never got in the way of the job—no one was afraid to work with him. “They treated me just like they would anybody else,” he said. “I was like the older brother, I guess.”