Community honors fallen police

Kay Webster's candle ignited to the sound of a six-gun salute.

Slowly leaning toward her neighbor's shoulder, she passed the tiny flame on throughout the crowd, creating a mild orange glow beneath the barely-shining stars Wednesday.

She bowed her head and silently prayed for different police officers who died in the line of duty.

"It's like when they go, they are forgotten, and it shouldn't be like that," Webster said. "I don't think people realize that officers put themselves in the line of duty every day."

Webster was one of many area citizens who gathered at Catawba Memorial Park on Wednesday to remember local officers who died during recent years.

The Peace Officers Memorial Day service is held annually in the county by the Catawba County Fraternal Order of Police.

The crowd, which consists of various law enforcement representatives, local citizens and family of the fallen, raised a candle for more than 10 local officers who died while serving the area.

After a message from retired Superior Court Judge L. Oliver Noble Jr., St. John's Lutheran Church Pastor Anton Lagoutine quoted scripture that summarized the theme of the night.

"Blessed are the peacemakers," Lagoutine read, "because they are the children of God."

Carl Pope is president of the Catawba County Fraternal Order of Police lodge which consists of city, county, state and federal officers.

Pope said that last year, about 158 American police officers died in the line of duty. So far this year, 67 have died.

"People don't have to wait once a year to honor those that have been killed," Pope said. "But a service like this gives area citizens the opportunity to honor all of those officers."

The service has taken place for more than 20 years and was held this year on the Police Officer Memorial near the rear of Catawba Memorial Park. This year, the Hickory Fire Department used one of its ladder trucks to hoist a large American flag over the entire processional.

"We're all just one big family," Pope said.

Pope added that the service occurs during May because President John F. Kennedy declared the week of May 15 National Police Officers Memorial Week.

As the service came to a close and the smoke from blown-out candles drifted playfully into the night sky, the words of Noble urged citizens to carry the message of the night into the future.

"The people we light a candle for tonight can't tell their story anymore, so we have to tell it for them," Noble said.