National Police Week: May 13-19, 2018 - A Time of Recognition and Remembrance
Honoring those who gave their lives in service to others, including Hillsboro Police Officer Gerald Erickson.
37-W-9. That might sound like gibberish, or even some sort of code. For most of us, hearing “37-W-9” means nothing. However, to the survivor of a line of duty death in the United States, it has a very poignant meaning. 37-W-9 means the ninth line of the 37th panel on the west side of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is the location of an officer’s name. More significantly for us at the Hillsboro Police Department, 37-W-9 is the location of the name of Officer Gerald Erickson, who on February 28, 1980 became the only Hillsboro Police officer to give his life in the line of duty.
There are 128 panels on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, and each contains approximately 168 names. These 21,541 fallen heroes gave their lives in the line of duty dating back to January 3, 1791, when Albany County, New York Constable Darius Quimby became the first American officer to die in the line of duty after he was shot while attempting an arrest.
Each of those 21,541 names represents a story. Just like Constable Quimby and Officer Erickson, each signifies a life cut short, promise left unfulfilled, and a family left to pick up the pieces and try to adjust to life without their fallen loved one. For those family members who survive a line of duty death, there is no such thing as “returning to normal” after suffering such a catastrophic loss. While the annals of history may soon forget the names of those lost in the line of duty, those family members do not as they are the ones left to face an empty chair at the dinner table each night.
Take, for instance, the Perry brothers. These two brothers hailed from Oregon. George and Robert were star athletes at St. Helens High School, war heroes who flew B-17s in World War II, and longtime high school teachers, administrators, and coaches who founded the Perry Sports Camp in Vernonia, which is still in operation today as Larry Steele’s Cedar Ridge Sports Camp. They were the epitome of everything we hold sacred about the Greatest Generation.
For 81 years, no one outside of their family and close friends knew the Perry brothers were the survivors of a line of duty death. Their father, St. Helens City Marshal Dale Perry, died in the line of duty on November 22, 1924 in a motorcycle crash. He was just 29. For 81 years, we as a collective whole moved on and forgot. For those two men, however, they did not forget. They were five and two, respectively, when their father died, and for 81 years, through the highs and lows of their lives, George and Robert Perry bore the pain of losing a father so young and carried with them through the following decades the fleeting memories of a man they so barely knew.Marshal Perry’s name was finally added to both the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2006, shortly before George’s death. Robert passed away in 2007, but both brothers lived to see their father finally honored properly for his service and sacrifice. The investigators who looked into Marshal Perry’s case interviewed both of them in 2005. It was very clear that, while these exceptional men had lived extraordinary lives filled with unparalleled accomplishments, when their father was brought up they were young sons who still missed their father deeply 81 years after his line of duty death.
This is the price paid by the family of a fallen police officer, and it is the very reason the days surrounding May 15 are known as National Police Week. It is why on that date each year we as a nation pause on Peace Officers Memorial Day to pay tribute to Officer Erickson, Marshal Perry, Constable Quimby, and the other 21,538 brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty. Moreover, we pause that day to remember those left behind by these officers. We pause for those like George and Robert Perry who carry with them a lifetime of longing and yearning for a loved one who will never come home.
The families of law enforcement officers are the true unsung heroes of policing, as they are the ones who rely purely on faith and hope that their hero will return home safely at the conclusion of their tour of duty. When an officer does not return home, it’s incumbent upon us to cherish their memory and honor their family for that sacrifice.
As the inscription on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial reads, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes. It is how they lived.” We honor the 21,541 heroes since 1791 who have paid the ultimate price for our safety, and this National Police Week we hold those they lived for close to our hearts.