GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Dozens of men in green uniforms and flat-brimmed hats gathered outside the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday in honor of eight officers who lost their lives while serving their community in Clay County.
Representatives from all area law enforcement agencies attended the annual event, with their respective departments’ badges wrapped in the traditional black mourning band, joining several local elected officials and family members of the deceased officers.
The event was held in conjunction with the national Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week, a tradition that dates back to John F. Kennedy’s presidency aimed at honoring the men and women who have died in uniform across the country. The official national day of remembrance is May 15, but due to scheduling conflicts, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office held their event early.
“This event memorializes the lives of men who have fallen in the line of duty,” said Darryl Daniels, Clay County sheriff. “Their memories will never, ever, fade away.”
The officers honored date back to the first known death of a Clay County peace keeper, Sheriff Josephus Peeler, who was shot while breaking up an argument at a train station. The dates continue through 2012 when a detective, David White, was killed during a drug raid. For his investigation into the illegal methamphetamine trade in Clay County, White was posthumously awarded as 2011 CCSO Deputy of the Year. All eight names are etched into a memorial just outside the sheriff’s office where the ceremony was held.
Before the proceedings, including the presentation and retiring of colors performed by the CCSO Honor Guard, the Rev. Tim Martin of the First Baptist Church of Middleburg delivered a welcome speech to the crowd before leading the group in prayer.
“[Law enforcement] is not an easy occupation, although there are many who choose to wear the badge,” Martin said. “We can take comfort in the fact that those who have had their watches come to an end now have peace.”
Sen. Rob Bradley was originally scheduled to speak, but after some scheduling issues he was “stuck in Tallahassee,” according to backup speaker Mike Cella, District 1 Clay County Commissioner.
“We cannot commemorate this day without celebrating their lives,” Cella said, urging the crowd to focus on the good these eight men had done in their lives and to remember the lives they saved and the joy they shared with their families.
Following a wreath-laying ceremony and a 21-gun salute, the First Coast Highlanders pipe and drum corp performed “Taps” and “Amazing Grace” and the ceremony drew itself to a close.
“To these families, I say thank you for sharing your loved one, and remember that they are in our hearts,” Daniels said. “For those who have a deputy or officer who still serves, continue to support them in this honorable profession that they were called into. They couldn’t be successful without the support and prayers from their family.”