Every 53 hours, a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association — and an event Monday in the city stressed the importance of never forgetting those making that sacrifice.
This includes two members of the Mount Airy Police Department honored in council chambers of the Municipal Building, where framed black and white photographs of Henry Dow Kennedy and Clinton Monroe Boggs were prominently displayed during a memorial service.
“As we reflect back, most of us can say we did not know them,” police Chaplain Gray Shelton said at one point of Kennedy and Boggs, who died in 1946 and 1971, respectively.
“And yet we are connected — we are connected by the heart.”
Each year a law enforcement memorial program is spearheaded here by the group Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department in conjunction with National Police Week, which this year runs from May 12-19. Along with paying tribute to those who have fallen, it also recognizes officers now serving.
About 20 present or retired lawmen attended Monday’s noontime event, including Mount Airy officers and Surry County Sheriff Steve Hiatt, along with city government leaders and relatives of Kennedy and Boggs.
In addition to those officers, the program included mention of Trooper Samuel Bullard per a special request from the N.C. Highway Patrol. Bullard was killed last year in a vehicular crash during a chase in Yadkin County.
A roll call of the fallen was led by Capt. Barry VanHoy of the Mount Airy Police Department, which included biographical information:
• Kennedy, a native of Thurmond, had worked for a shipbuilding company in Norfolk, Virginia, before joining the local police force in the 1940s. He enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid hunter.
On the night of July 16, 1946, Kennedy, who had been serving as an officer for nearly two years, accompanied by fellow officer Emmett Semones, chased a speeding vehicle being operated recklessly by a driver suspected of hauling illegal liquor.
During the pursuit, the police car left the roadway and collided with an embankment. Kennedy died the next morning from injuries suffered in the crash. He was 36 years old and left behind a wife and five children.
• Boggs hailed from Davidson County and while growing up talked about his desire to become a police officer. First he would serve with the U.S. Army in Korea from 1954-56.
After marrying and living in Guilford County for a short time, Boggs decided that he wanted to raise his family in a smaller community, which led to his move to Mount Airy. He worked for the Surry County Sheriff’s Office before joining the city force in the late 1960s and was promoted to detective in 1970.
Boggs, 37 at the time, was scheduled to be off duty the night of Feb. 25, 1971, but volunteered to work in order to continue an ongoing car-theft investigation. He spotted and pursued a stolen vehicle during his shift, which stopped on U.S. 52 near the West Pine Street exit.
The detective approached the car and was shot multiple times by the driver. Boggs left behind a wife, an infant son and daughter, Dawn, who later would observe that her father had died “doing what he loved — for a town that he loved.”
Trooper Bullard, meanwhile, had joined the Highway Patrol in June 2015 and while he resided in Wilkes County was a member of the state agency’s district that includes Surry County.
He died on May 21, 2018, during a vehicle pursuit along Interstate 77 just inside the Yadkin County line when his patrol car wrecked and was engulfed in flames.
Three people recently received active prison sentences after pleading guilty to charges filed in connection with the death of Bullard, who was 24.
A personal recollection of the late trooper was offered during Monday’s program by Edwin Johnson, the husband of state Rep. Sarah Stevens. She was scheduled to be guest speaker for the event, but was unable to attend due to illness, which left Johnson to appear on her behalf.
That provided him the opportunity to recall how he had once been pulled over by Bullard on U.S. 601, but despite that Johnson said he was impressed by the trooper’s professionalism and courtesy.
Johnson told Monday’s gathering that he drives to Statesville each Tuesday on business, but was advised not to use I-77 on the morning after Bullard was killed on a Monday night because travel was affected as a result.
When the situation cleared up, Johnson headed down that route and saw the results of what had happened, with a photo of Bullard also popping up on Facebook. Johnson said he now thinks of the trooper every time he passes that spot.
Relaying comments from Stevens — who chairs the House Judiciary Committee — Johnson mentioned that state legislators have sought to aid law officers in recent years, including increasing the penalty for those who assault them.
They also have allocated many millions of dollars for a law enforcement training academy.
Others offering special remarks Monday included City Manager Barbara Jones, who spoke directly to officers in attendance. “Thank you for all you do,” she said, adding that everyone should remember those “who have given their all.”
Jones also pointed out how the job of law enforcement is not getting any easier, as its members face many challenges on the job today.
Joan Inman of the Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department related her experiences from riding with city officers during a 12-hour shift, saying she was amazed by everything they encountered. This sometimes included abuse from the public, but they still acted professionally.
“I would probably smack somebody,” Inman said of her response if placed in their shoes.
Toward the end of Monday’s service, which concluded with a moment of silence, Chaplain Shelton led responsive reading passages with audience participation titled “We Remember Them,” in honor of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
“For as long as we live, they too shall live,” Shelton said during the recitation.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.