Law enforcement agencies come together to honor the fallen
SALEM – In honor and representation of brotherhood, local law enforcement agencies came together to honor the fallen heroes of the Salem area and other communities on May 17. Salem was the host city for this year’s memorial service held at First Christian Church.
Representatives of police departments and sheriff’s offices from Salem, Roanoke County, Vinton, Virginia Tech, Virginia Western Community College, Western Virginia Regional Jail attended, along with other regional agencies.
The first Law Enforcement Memorial was held in Washington D.C. on May 15, 1962 – the site where the National Memorial is now.
In Salem, as names of fallen officers were read off one by one, fellow officers placed a red rose in a large blue shield in their honor, and a bell was tolled.
Guest speaker was House of Delegates member Greg Habeeb who represents Salem, parts of Roanoke and Montgomery County and Craig County.
That day, however, he told the audience: “Today I take off my political hat, and pay honor to the ones who died in the line of duty… because many sacrifices are toiled in silence.” Habeeb also went on to say that an event like this “… is important to me, because we live with the people who protect our communities.”
It was evident throughout the service and from comments by officers and retired law enforcement at the reception afterwards that being a member of law enforcement is a profession meant to help others. It is also one that Salem Police Officer Todd Clayton called a “united front.”
Hearts were heavy for families of the fallen officers, as David Simmons came to the memorial service in honor of his great-grandfather Clarence Simmons, a Roanoke County deputy who died while serving. In reference to the ceremony, Simmons stated “It gave me chill bumps…it was amazing.”
With him was his great-uncle Watson, the son of Deputy Simmons. Watson was also active in his community as a volunteer with the Roanoke County Fire Department for 20 years.
Sgt. Stacey Sheppard of the Salem Police Department sang “Amazing Grace” during the ceremony. “It was tough to get through that song,” she said afterwards. “You’re standing up there and you look in the crowd and you see your peers, colleagues and you just think about that sacrifice.”
Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins said, “It’s truly a wonderful thing as a police officer to know that I don’t have to worry no matter where I’m at… whether it’s the City of Salem or Roanoke County and I know that there are people there that care a great deal.”
Retired Salem Police Officer Frank Pendleton was there to show respect and appreciation. Pendleton, who served with the Salem police department for 39-½ years, said, “It’s different that any other profession because of the closeness.” He added, “Any honor really isn’t enough.”
Pendleton said he remembered two of the three fallen officers from Salem, Russell McCurry and William H. Thompson for whom Thompson Memorial Drive is named.
He also recalled playing softball with fallen Virginia State Police Officer Ricky McCoy. The overpass on I-81 in over Goodwin Avenue in Salem is named for McCoy, who was killed while trying to apprehend an escapee from Northern Virginia.
Chaplain Charles Gwaltney’s has been with the Salem Police Department for 20 years assisting officers who may need help coping with any emotional problems that may arise. He explained that although he has served a memorial service for the Salem Police Department in the past, this was his first time taking part in the regional commemoration.
He said he was glad to see the various agencies “United in what they’re doing,” united, coming together as a community to protect, serve, and risk their lives for others.
– By Eric Johnson, intern