By Kristin Fox
As a part of National Police Week, law enforcement agencies, local dignitaries, families, and others gathered last Friday on the courthouse square for the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service presented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #81 of Macon and Jackson Counties. The service is held each year to recognize law enforcement officers in North Carolina and around the country who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives while serving to protect others.
The local memorial is one such as envisioned by President John F. Kennedy 61 years when he passed a law known as the National Police Officers Memorial Week. In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls as National Police Week. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.
It was until almost 20 years later before any group celebrated National Police Officers Memorial Week with the first National Police Officers Memorial Day Service held on May 15, 1982 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The Macon & Jackson Counties Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #81 was formed in February 2003 by a group of active and retired police personnel who came together and meet as a brotherhood.
“Each and every year at this time of the year during Law Enforcement Memorial Week, the law enforcement community across the United States recognizes those officers that have fallen in the line of duty for the year,” said Al Caiata, Master of Ceremonies and former President of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #81. “Unfortunately, that number keeps growing and growing; last year, we lost nine officers in the state of North Carolina.”
The memorial began with the benediction by Commissioner Danny Antoine who also serves as one of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office and Franklin Police Department’s chaplains. Piper Michael Waters provided bagpipe music. The Macon County Honor Guard represented by Patrol Sergeant Matt Bingham and Patrol Officer Jonathan Lauffer, both with the Franklin Police Department, led by Macon County Sheriff Office Corporal Scott Nelson presented the colors.
Macon County Sheriff Brent Holbrooks welcomed the audience to the memorial and recognized elected officials who attended – Macon County Commissioners Antoine and Gary Shields, Franklin Town Mayor Jack Horton, Highlands Town Mayor, Senator Kevin Corbin and Jackson County Sheriff Doug Farmer.
Sheriff Holbrooks then introduced keynote speaker Highlands Police Chief Andrea “Sissy” Holland. Holland has been serving as a law enforcement officer since 2004 and in the Highlands Police Department since 2007. She holds an associate degree in law enforcement from Southwestern Community College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Western Carolina University. In 2020, she was sworn in as the Chief of the Highlands Police Department. Prior to being selected as the new chief, she had served as a detective for the department.
“We are here today to honor the brave men and women who have given their lives selflessly to protect our great state and the citizens who have relied upon them,” said Holland. “I stand before you to honor the memory of all officers who have fallen and given the ultimate sacrifice; to those who have gone before us and their families who are left behind, you warrant our most profound admiration.”
“Each year we add more names to the wall; they are the epitaph of heroes,” she added. “They now join other officers who have left their legacy, and we must ensure we never forget them. We must work together as one community, on entity, and body to create a safer environment for you and us so we don’t have to add another name to the wall.”
In 2022, nine North Carolina police officers gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the line of duty. These fallen officers included: Deputy Sheriff Oscar Yovani Bolanos-Anavisca, Jr. Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Sheriff Jose Angel DeLeon Warren County Sheriff’s Office; Detention Corporal Gregory Thomas Horne, Sr. Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Sheriff Ned P. Byrd Wake County Sheriff’s Office; Sergeant Matthew Ryan Fishman Wayne County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Michael W. Godwin New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office; Correctional Officer Helen Mae Smith North Carolina Department Public Safety – Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice; Captain Reginald Kamal Smith Wilson Police Department and Trooper John Sumter Horton North Carolina Highway. Patrol.
Two local FOP members who recently died were recognized at the memorial service – Joseph Hall who was a very active FOP board member for the last 10 years and John O’Connor an active board member for 15 years who served as the FOP secretary and treasurer.
The traditional placing of the wreath was presented by Trooper Michael Gerra North Carolina Highway Patrol and Lieutenant Leah McCall Highlands Police Department. The 21-gun salute was presented by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team under the direction of Macon County Sheriff’s Office Captain Clay Bryson.
The memorial concluded with taps by Alan Newton on the bugle and the closing prayer by Davis Hooper, Pastor Liberty Baptist Church.
National Police Week is a collaborative effort of many organizations dedicated to honoring America’s law enforcement community. Recognizing all that law enforcement do for our community, the week is set aside to respect, honor and remember those who work every day to protect us.