HAYNESVILLE, La. - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to Officer Danny Joe Mills, his wife Nina and their two children, Angie Darnell and Larry Mills could write a novel.
"He never wavered, was an oak for all of us," said Darnell.
The Mills lived in their Haynesville home for 29 years. They moved in on Nov. 11, 1991.
"He liked living out here. We built this house," said Nina Mills.
Danny Joe and Nina lost their oldest child, 6-year-old Donna Kay, who died in June 1979. Doctors believe it was from Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever.
"He didn't do well when Donna Kay died. He didn't do well at all," said Nina Mills.
Before starting a family, Danny Joe started his career as a volunteer Haynesville firefighter. He retired after 38 years of fighting fires, saving lives, and training hundreds of firefighters. He worked at the Haynesville Police Department from 1977 to 1980.
"He was the first certified officer that Haynesville PD ever had," explained Nina Mills while pointing to a news article.
Danny Mills spent 28 years as a correctional officer at David Wade Correctional Center.
Officer Danny Joe, as many in the community called him, was on the ground during the recovery efforts of the NASA space shuttle Columbia Explosion in Louisiana in 2003. He headed to New Orleans to rescue prisoners because of flooding from Hurricane Katrina.
He left Wade Correctional in 2008 as a full bird colonel. Retirement wasn't enough. So Officer Danny Joe returned. This time as a reserve officer at Homer Police Department.
"During my first year as chief, I hired him as a full time officer. He wore his mask. He did everything he was supposed to do," said Homer Police Chief Van McDaniel.
"He came down with symptoms. He came down with dry heaves on Friday the 13th," said Nina Mills. The novel coronavirus had reached the home of Officer Danny Joe Mills.
"To find out that dad had it, it worried me," said Darnell.
Officer Danny Joe was a type 2 diabetic.
"He needed an ICU COVID bed. They were going to try to fly him to St. Francis in Monroe because that's the closest bed around. Shreveport was full," said Darnell.
McDaniel went to the hospital to make sure the landing zone was set up correctly. "As they loaded him up into the helicopter, he coded," said McDaniel.
"His heart had stopped and so they brought him back in. They had him on the vent and the ventilator was breathing for him because he was in a medically induced coma. I told him he couldn't leave me, that he was supposed to hang around for 50 years," Darnell said.
Officer Danny Joe, a husband, father of three and grandfather of two died on Nov. 25.
"Officer Mills and other officers like Mills, they come out and they work during this pandemic knowing, we all know that we can get it. The people in this community need to know that Officer Mills was here for them and he was a hero," said McDaniel.
Officer Danny Joe's son, Larry Mills, followed his father's footsteps to become a Haynesville firefighter.
"It doesn't care. It doesn't matter whether you're perfectly healthy or not. If you get it, there's a chance," said Larry Mills.