Service honors ‘remarkable’ officers
Like many other communities throughout the nation, members of the Harrison County law enforcement community and others gathered last Wednesday at noon to honor those who served and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was the county’s third annual police memorial service presented by the prosecutor’s office.
‘We come here to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, those of you that serve our great county each and every day and your family members who live with the feat and uncertainty of the dangers and perils that accompany your career in law enforcement,’ Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said in welcoming those in attendance.
‘Each and every single day we are exposed to news articles that detail how police officers are killed in the line of duty, corrections guards attacked or killed by prisoners and, as of late, prosecutors being slain by those they prosecute,’ he said. ‘Ultimately, you have two choices when we learn of these horrific tragedies: You either lace up your boots and put on your duty belt and refuse to back down to those that mean you harm or you surrender to the fear that these individuals hope to create. Each and every one of you brave officers here today take the first option and refuse to be intimidated by those of the criminal element.’
Among those attending was Patricia (Pat) Denzinger of Elizabeth, whose son, Frank, a deputy with the Floyd County Sheriff’s Dept., was killed in the line of duty in 2007 when he responded to a domestic dispute between a mother and son.
Schalk said he is ‘humbled and honored to work for such a remarkable group of individuals’ in the law enforcement community.
‘There are thousands of citizens of Harrison County that rely on you each and every day,’ he told the officers. ‘You are the last line of defense that stands between law-abiding citizens and those that wish to do us harm. It is a remarkable responsibility that you are burdened with, but you are remarkable individuals, you’re great officers and we are lucky to have you working in Harrison County.’
After the service, Denzinger was able to speak with Eric Johnson, a founding member and executive director of Supporting Heroes, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting families of fallen public safety personnel. Johnson helped the Denzinger family with arrangements following Frank’s death.
Johnson was the keynote speaker for last week’s program.
‘It is an honor to be part of this ceremony today as we commemorate Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day,’ said Johnson, who had just returned from Police Week activities in Washington, D.C. ‘At this moment, hundreds of survivors of fallen law enforcement heroes are gathered at our nation’s capitol along with over 20,000 law enforcement officers and appreciative citizens. They are gathered there for the same reason we come together here today ‘ and countless others in cities and towns across America hold similar ceremonies ‘ to pay respect and honor all the brave men and women of America’s law enforcement family and especially to remember and honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty.’
Each year, following a joint resolution by Congress in 1962 and President Kennedy signing it into law in 1963, May 15 has been recognized as Peace Officers Memorial Day.
‘So today, … we remember and honor approximately 20,000 brave men and women who, throughout the history of our great country, have made the supreme sacrifice while serving and protecting our citizens,’ Johnson said. ‘We also recognize and pay respect to the thousands who have been disabled in the line of duty and forced to live dramatically changed lives as a result of their selfless service to others.
‘Finally, we pay respect to those who continue to serve, the brave men and women, who, in spite of the risks, knowing that an average of 160 law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty each year and a great many more are seriously injured or disabled, still pin on a badge each day and go out into harm’s way to protect others.’
He cited the events of 9/11 and last month’s Boston Marathon bombings as ‘dramatic examples’ where police officers and other first responders rushed to help those in need.
‘But the same sort of bravery, determination and heroism that was displayed in those tragedies is duplicated in cities and towns across America on a daily basis,’ Johnson said. ‘Uncommon valor is not uncommon among the men and women of law enforcement.’
Johnson uses two statements when speaking of fallen law enforcement officers.
‘The first is inscribed at the entrance of the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial in Washington, D.C.: ‘It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived’,’ he said. ‘The second is from scripture. In John 15:13, we are told ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’.
‘Most often, when we think of that passage, we think in terms of one giving his or her mortal life in the line of duty,’ he said. ‘Those are the heroes whose names are inscribed upon memorial walls and the ones we grieve. But I also believe laying down one’s life for his friends means committing to a life of selfless service to others.
‘Anyone who serves or has served in law enforcement, or is a family member of a law enforcement officer, knows exactly what I mean,’ Johnson continued. ‘It is not an easy job. It is not a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday job with weekends and holidays off. It is a job with great physical risks that require dedication and vigilance, often working nights, weekends and holidays, in good weather and bad … ‘
In closing, Johnson asked that those who serve never be forgotten and to support their family members.
‘And let us pray today and every day for the safety of all and that there will never be a reason to add another name to any memorial wall,’ he said.
Johnson was introduced by Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye, whose father was killed in the line of duty.
Richard (Dick) Goodwin, a chaplain with the sheriff’s department, led a beginning and closing prayer. He also had recently visited the police memorial in D.C. He said he looked up three names: Denzinger, former Harrison County Sheriff William (Bill) Carver who died in office and Seelye’s father, Ronnie.
He encouraged those who have not visited the memorial to do so. ‘You will be amazed,’ he said.
As part of the program, members of the North Harrison High School band led the police motorcade into the parking lot and played ‘Taps’ at the conclusion of the program. Police officers from different agencies presented the colors, and a white carnation was given to the spouses of law enforcement officers.