Vietnam veteran, Baltimore City police officer, and chief of the University of Maryland Medical Police. An individual would be considered noteworthy to hold just one of these jobs in his or her life; Pasadena resident John Christian has held all of these prestigious roles during his long career of service.
Originally from Elmira, New York, Christian moved to Frederick, Maryland, with his mother the summer after his eighth-grade year. After graduating high school, Christian was drafted into the Vietnam War at age 18, though he had already planned on enlisting before his number came up.
“Ever since I was a young boy, I wanted to be a police officer, so this was an opportunity to serve and prepare me for the future,” he said.
He did a tour in Vietnam, starting near the end of 1968. Christian recalls that being in Vietnam as a young man was scary at first, but he was helped by the older guys. He served in the military police, working with convoy security, including protecting medical convoys that carried supplies.
In 1971, he was awarded a commendation for his role in the wake of a 1969 rocket attack in North Saigon.
“They were aiming rockets at us and they hit an English-speaking school of children,” he said, recalling the attack. “We rescued about 60 children, but some died.”
After coming home in late 1969, Christian worked as a military police patrol supervisor at Edgewood Arsenal in Aberdeen, where he reached the rank of sergeant. As a member of the 511th Military Police Platoon, he and two other men were awarded with the Army Commendation Medal for entering a smoke-filled building twice to help evacuate the residents of a burning house in January 1971.
In 1972, Christian left the Army and joined the Baltimore City police force, where he worked for nearly three decades. Christian worked as a SWAT coordinator and was not only in charge of stopping crime, but he also designed motorcade routes and security for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush when they visited Baltimore. In addition to providing presidential security, Christian delivered the same service for Pope John Paul II upon his visit to Baltimore in 1995.
For the pope’s visit, Baltimore County police and Maryland State Police worked in two-man teams, along with the help of Secret Service agents, Christian said.
“We had 55 sniper teams in downtown Baltimore,” Christian recalled. “We had guys on every high roof and high-ground position, so we could take the advantage. At least 150 officers on the parade route had observation on all the buildings.”
Being so impressed with his protection, Pope John Paul II met with Christian at the Baltimore Basilica in a private meeting to thank him. Christian described his experience of meeting the pope as “very solemn. Kind of took your breath away.”
Christian was invited to the White House by Clinton for a luncheon to discuss a crime bill. He also worked security during Cal Ripken’s record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game for the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite having protected many prominent figures, Christian said the best part of being a police officer was serving the citizens of Baltimore.
“Helping people was my goal, especially when I saw someone in need,” he said. “I had an exciting career, and I was blessed to work with some great guys. I attribute my accomplishments to my fellow officers.”
After leaving the police force in 2000, Christian took time off to care for his mother. In 2001, Christian started working for the University of Maryland medical police, where he provided security for personnel on the exterior side. Christian had the rank of captain and worked for the university until 2009.
Today, Christian continues to give back to the community by transporting veterans to their medical appointments. Christian has transported veterans of all ages to their appointments, from veterans of World War II to the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and present day.
The years of serving in Vietnam and as a police officer have come with a small price. Christian has partial hearing loss from being in close range of gunfire so many times during his life.
“He is dedicated through and through,” said Debbie Groat, Christian’s sister-in-law of 20 years.
When asked why he continues to volunteer, Christian said, “Self-fulfillment. I enjoy helping people. I’ve done it my whole life. I can’t stop now.”