Members of the community, as well as friends and loved ones of fallen officers, gathered around the front steps of the Fayette County Courthouse last Tuesday to remember and honor all police officers killed in the line of duty for the Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) Lodge 118 Annual Police Memorial.
Flags across the state were ordered to half-staff Tuesday by Gov. Jim Justice in recognition of the annual memorial observance.
To begin the service, retired Deputy Sgt. Garland Burke of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department delivered a brief introduction from the shadowed porch of the building. “This day ... is a day of recognition throughout our great nation, to remember and honor those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to make our streets safe.”
Pictures of several fallen officers were displayed at the bottom steps as Burke spoke the last lines of his introduction. “We will never forget and they will never walk alone.”
Immediately following Burke, Ansted Police Patrolman Rob Legg gave a short invocation and sang Brad Paisley’s “When I Get Where I’m Going,” an emotional and fitting song for the occasion. As he sang, a gentle, comforting wind blew across the lawn, which caused the crisp blue and black bows tied around the columns of the building to fold as if they were in salute.
The guest speaker at the memorial was retired Fayette County Sheriff’s Deputy Howard E. Hill Jr. who also a retired from U.S. National Guard with the rank of colonel.
As he paid tribute to the fallen officers, which he noted were “way too many,” Hill said that even in an age that harbors such vast and promising advances, there are still those that choose “a more primitive era defined by the club, the stick, and the spear.”
“Unfortunately they will always be with us. This is why we need men and women who choose the career of law enforcement to stand for us and to keep our communities safe.” He also recognized that although no words ever spoken or monuments ever built could fill the hole left by the men and women being honored, their “ultimate sacrifice” made communities across West Virginia better and safer.
In his conclusion, Hill implored the crowd to make a commitment to honor those killed in the line of duty, not only through words, but also through actions, to create a living monument.
In the final moments of the service, Sgt. James Mitchell, chaplain of the West Virginia State Police, sang “The Anchor Holds,” which contained the lines, “The anchor holds though the ship is battered. The anchor holds though the sails are torn.”
With these words still lingering in the air, Montgomery Police Sgt. Chris Powell and D/S Amanda Keenan of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department stepped forward to share the duty of the Roll Call of Honor, which named the 157 fallen police officers of West Virginia since 1863.
In attendance was Robyn Smith who, along with her family, remembered the life and service of her older brother, Beckley Police Cpl. Charles Eugene “Chuck” Smith II, who was killed in the line of duty on August 29, 2006.
As she stood surrounded by uniformed police personnel, Smith spoke of the importance of remembering the sacrifice of all officers, not just that of her brother. “We aren’t just here for Chuck. We are here for everybody, every officer — the ones still alive and those who have lost their life.”
A faint and bittersweet smile spread across Smith’s face. “We don’t want them to ever be forgotten because they all died for a reason.”