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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: Memorial service honors fallen officers

Police officers and supporters listen to a speaker on Police Memorial Day. [PARKER NEWMAN/Hendersonville Lightning]

Law officers, their families and supporters turned out Saturday evening on Police Officers Memorial Day to pay tribute to fallen officers and hear the community's law enforcement leaders call on them to be "keepers of the light of these fallen heroes."

Signed into law in 1962 by President Kennedy, Police Officers Memorial Day honors fallen officers from across the U.S., Sheriff Lowell Griffin said.

"There's a monument in Washington, D.C.," he said. "That monument has thousands of names inscribed on it of those who have given all for their community. And this year has special meaning because we have added another name from Henderson County to that wall. Just yesterday this building was dedicated to Deputy Ryan Hendrix. This stands not only as a memorial, so that we will never forget him. This stands as a reminder for us, for those that were willing to sacrifice everything, as Ryan was for a community that he loved. We know that this is a reminder of the high standard he conducted himself by and the way we need to conduct ourselves."

Days after Deputy Hendrix died last Sept. 10, Henderson County deputies attended the funeral of a Greenville, South Carolina, deputy who lost his life and just three weeks ago they mourned two Watauga County deputies who were gunned down at a domestic call.

"Just behind me, you're going to see duty boots, 11 pair of boots," Griffin said. "This symbolizes real people who gave everything and didn't make it home from their shift in North Carolina. Their losses affected the cities and counties they served, the communities that they lived in, their friends and the law enforcement family. But as you look closer you're going to see something that really stands out. Look at their children's shoes and you'll see the devastating effect that each loss has had. Each duty boot represents a husband, a wife, a son, a brother or a sister that didn't  return from their tour that day. But those children's shoes represent a child who grew up without a parent because they put the badge on and they went to work and they gave all."

Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand said law officers face danger every day that they serve and protect.

"There are more than 800,000 husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who serve communities every day as sworn law enforcement officers and despite the dangers of this profession every single one of them go to work day and night, weekends and holidays, birthday parties and anniversaries to protect and serve us," he said. "Those individuals have my deepest admiration and respect and for those men and women who do this job knowing full well that today might be the day they are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and liberty. There's no speech, no ceremony or words I can say that can fade the memory when an officer is killed in the line of duty. But tonight we celebrate their lives, not their deaths. For it is us, the ones left wearing the badge, who must uphold the honor and integrity in their absence. Without a doubt that is what Ryan and so many did. Let their sacrifice be for a purpose greater than us all."

Blue Ridge Community College Police Chief Daran Dodd said: "Three-hundred and sixty families last year lost sons daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives. It feels like yesterday that I was mourning the loss of someone you may know, Sgt. Jeff Hewitt of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office. That was 17 years ago and I've found through the years it never gets any easier when we lose one of our own. We can never forget the sacrifices of these brave men and women who save lives in our community every single day. They are forever bound together by their unbreakable bond of valor and sacrifice."

"The candles that are lit here tonight may not burn long," Dodd said, "but they remind us that we must all be keepers of the light that's inside of these fallen heroes."

In closing, Griffin asked law officers, families and community to remember the families and to continue to support law enforcement.

"I would like to ask God to bless all of the families and survivors of these officers that have given all this year," he said, "but also bless those families that sit on pins and needles every day when their loved one pins that badge on and walks out the door."

The Henderson County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard fired a 21-gun salute and a bugler played "Taps" and a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" as a gigantic American flag attached to a city ladder truck waved in the evening breeze.