IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE 1946 when Police Officer Henry Hicks said goodbye to his wife, Mary, and their six children and headed off to his beat in the 15th District.

Mary and her three boys and three girls had no idea it would be the last time they would see him. Hicks, 39, was killed that evening while arresting two runaway juveniles.

Yesterday, surviving family members, police brass, and rank-and-file officers paid their final respects to Hicks with a plaque dedication in his honor on the sidewalk of Mater Dolorosa Roman Catholic Church, Ruan and Paul streets, Frankford.

"The officers are here today because [the Hickses] are a part of our family," Deputy Police Commissioner Patricia Fox said as she addressed the family. "The tragedy of the night this occurred shouldn't overshadow" Hicks' great works.

Hicks was a three-year veteran of the force when he was shot. The two juveniles were fleeing from New Jersey when Hicks spotted them, and after a brief chase, one of the teens turned and shot Hicks three times with a 9 mm handgun.

Hicks, bleeding profusely, managed to hold on to one of the runaways, but the other grabbed Hicks' nightstick and severely beat the officer until Hicks lost his grip, and, ultimately, his life.

The two juveniles were later arrested in Wilmington, Del., and charged with Hicks' murder.

Hicks' one surviving son, Richard Hicks, called him a hero. But Richard believes all the men and women on the force are heroes.

"I know you are all saying my father is a fallen hero, and we always say that when someone dies," said Hicks, who was 9 when his father was killed. "But I hope everyone, my son included, who wears the blue, understands that every day you put that blue on and walk out in that street . . . that's a heroic act."

Richard's son, Richard Jr., is a member of the Anne Arundel County, Md., Police Department, and he said the inspirational tales of his grandfather's heroism encouraged him to become an officer.

"Growing up, I had heard stories about my grandfather through my family and friends who knew him and were still alive," the grandson said. "And it was something I always wanted to do, and every day when I go to work, I just think about him and make sure that I always do the right things, like my grandfather would."

Retired U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arlin Adams and his wife were the citizen sponsors of this plaque, the 34th in the Hero Plaque Program.

To become a citizen sponsor or for more information on the program, contact attorney James Binns at 215-275-3000. *