Every day, men and women in Blair County put on their badges, kiss their spouses and kids goodbye, and walk out the door to protect their communities.
"You don't know if you'll ever come back or not," retired West Memphis, Ark., Police Chief Robert H. Paudert told those gathered Thursday evening in Hollidaysburg for the 23rd annual Blair County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Service. "We don't think about that, but we should."
Standing outside the courthouse at the memorial inscribed with the names of 11 officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, Paudert urged the officers - representing departments from across Blair County - to be more prepared and to remember that, to some people, they are the enemy.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Blair Township police Sgt. Roger Peacock helps his daughter, Genevieve, 4, place a rose as his wife, Jessica, watches during the 23rd annual Blair County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Service on Thursday evening at the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg. Jessica’s father, Blair Township Patrolman Ronald J. Turek, was killed in the line of duty in 1985. He was one of 11 officers honored.
Paudert knows what it is like to lose an officer in the line of duty. In 2010, two of his officers were shot dead at a traffic stop by so-called Sovereign Citizens, people who don't believe the laws of the United States apply to them. One of those officers was his son, Brandon Paudert.
"I was staring down at him, looking at him - my entire life changed that day," Paudert said of the moment he arrived at the scene and saw his son. "I'll never be the same person I was before, and neither will my wife and neither will Brandon's children."
Jessica Turek Peacock, whose father, Blair Township Police Patrolman Ronald J. Turek, was shot and killed March 27, 1985, continues to volunteer with Blair County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation to raise money for local scholarships and to maintain the memorial.
"As a family member of a fallen officer, it is just amazing every year to see how many people still come out to honor the officers who are working now," Peacock said. "But also, I always get a story I never heard of how wonderful of a man my dad was. It's just nice that people still remember and still honor."
Duncansville Police Chief Jim Ott said the memorial service is a sobering reminder of what could happen. Over the years, the ceremony, one filled with prayer, music and remembrance, has helped form strong bonds between the area's law enforcement and the families of fallen officers.
"This is all because we want to make sure we take the time to honor each and every officer that has fallen. Because they've earned that," Ott said.
Ott said while the pay isn't always great, and there are times when officers don't seem appreciated, it's important that the law enforcement community get together and pay tribute to the men and women who wear the badge and put themselves in harm's way for their neighbors.
"It could be us, at any given moment, it could be us," Ott noted. "We hope to never put another name on that wall."
Sadly, Ott added, the officers know that won't be the case.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.