GREENFIELD — With careful, quiet steps, an honor guard of police officers, each caring a colorful flag, marched around a stone bearing the names of their fallen comrades.
Next to the nation’s red, white and blue and the state’s golden stars, one bright banner proclaimed why they gathered that day: we remember.
Sunday marked National Peace Officer Memorial Day. A crowd of local law enforcement and community members gathered at the county’s fallen officer memorial, located at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 140 in Greenfield, to remember three police officers and one conservation officer who lost their lives while serving Hancock County.
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May 15 was declared National Peace Officers Memorial Day in 1962. Each year, flags are flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset that day, and memorial services are held across the country to honor those officers who lost their lives or were disabled in the line of duty.
Hancock County, however, has not had an organized event on the day to celebrate the lives of local first-responders. So Sunday, donning their dress uniforms, officers from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Greenfield Police Department, Indiana State Police and Department of Natural Resources gathered at the F.O.P. to pay their respects.
They marched with flags and stood at attention as the names of each lost officer were called: Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Malcolm E. Grass; Indiana Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Karl Kelley; Hancock County Sheriff’s Cpl. Dannie Garrison; and Greenfield Police Department Patrolman Will Phillips.
Greenfield Police Sgt. Chuck McMichael, who organized the ceremony for the local F.O.P., said he hopes to make the gathering an annual one, ensuring the sacrifices of the men whose names are etched in stone at the local memorial are never forgotten.
“Everyone on the road is there for the same reason,” McMichael said of his fellow officers. “It’s a calling. We have to remember those who came before us.”
More than 70 community members and about two dozen police officers attended the memorial service. The crowd included family members of Grass, Kelley, Garrison and Phillips.
Kerry Grass, son of fallen officer Malcolm Grass and a member of the Greenfield City Council, spoke during the ceremony about what it is like for the families left behind when an officer dies. The lives of the husbands, wives and children of the fallen officers are forever marked with wonders of “what if” and “if only,” Kerry Grass said, his voice shaking slightly as he spoke.
But the pain they feel is matched by pride, and they learn to carry on the legacy of that person who meant so much to them, he said.
Kerry Grass’ message is one Mike Hill hopes his children remember. The Shirley resident attended Sunday’s ceremony with his wife, Amanda, and their three young kids to remind the children of the sacrifices police officers and their families make for the community.
When the ceremony concluded, the Hill children went around to those in uniform, shook their hands and said, “thank you.”
“It’s easy for them to take for granted that their mom and dad are coming home every day,” Mike Hill said. “Not everyone is so lucky.”
– Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Malcolm Grass, 43, was shot and killed in a police standoff on May 8, 1986. Grass had served two terms as sheriff before his death.
– Indiana Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Karl Kelley, 56, died on April 17, 1998 from injuries he’d suffered while trying to save fellow officers during a water-training exercises. The boats Kelley and other officers were using capsized in rough waves, and he was underwater for more than 15 minutes.
– Hancock County Sheriff’s deputy Dannie Garrison, 51, suffered a heart attack while on duty and crashed his police cruiser on Jan. 1, 2000.
– Greenfield Police Department Patrolman Will Phillips, 32, died in a hit-and-run accident in Henry County while cycling with fellow officers on Sept. 30, 2010. He was a member of the department’s bicycle patrol team.