On Oct. 2, 1962. President John F. Kennedy signed into law a joint resolution of Congress that established May 15 as National Peace Officer's Memorial Day. The stated purpose of the resolution is: "[T]o pay tribute to the law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and voice our appreciation for those who currently serve on the front lines of the battle against crime."
Since the founding of our country, over 19,000 law enforcement officers, including 280 from Washington state, have made the ultimate sacrifice for the protection of our communities and nation. Their names are engraved on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as on local memorials established in the states and cities where they served. Two Whatcom County Sheriff's deputies are among those who lost their lives while serving our citizens.
On Sept. 13, 2001, Deputy Matt Herzog died at age 27 from injuries he received after the patrol vehicle in which he was riding crashed on Samish Way during the pursuit of a felon. Deputy Herzog left behind his grieving family, friends and co-workers. The felon being pursued served a short time in prison and was released only to engage in more crime and lead officers on additional dangerous pursuits. He was sentenced last April 15 for his latest criminal episode to less than 10 years in state prison.
On July 28, 1921, Deputy James Chatfield was shot and killed at age 44 while trying to intercept drug and liquor smugglers at the border near Blaine. Deputy Chatfield left behind two small children. The charges against the killers of Deputy Chatfield were dismissed when they convinced the court that they did not know that Deputy Chatfield was a law enforcement officer.
Sadly, until recently, Deputy Chatfield's line-of-duty death escaped the institutional memory of the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. His sacrifice would be lost to the ages had in not been for tireless efforts of the Spokane-based Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial Project and its researcher Rae Anna Victor. The work of the memorial project has led to the re-discovery of the legacies of many long-forgotten and unsung heroes. Because of the memorial project's research, all officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty will receive their honored and rightful place in Washington state history. Deputy Chatfield has joined Deputy Herzog in being honored with his name engraved upon the National Law Enforcement Memorial and at statewide memorials in Olympia and Spokane. A special ceremony to honor last year's law enforcement deaths and those recently discovered was held in Spokane on May 6.
The work of law enforcement officers in Whatcom County and across Washington state is difficult and dangerous. They are our peacekeepers, the guardians of our freedom and often help make the difference between a civilized society and chaos. They and their families deserve our prayers and appreciation. As a community we not only need to remember those who have given their lives, but support efforts to ensure that those who continue to serve receive the training, equipment and staffing levels they need to safely carry out their mission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Elfo is the elected Whatcom County sheriff. He has served since 2002. For more information online, go to co.whatcom.wa.us/sheriff.