By David Rogers. June 1, 2020. 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC – For Blowing Rock resident Albert Yount, the month of May is special. As Commander of American Legion Post 256, over Memorial Day weekend he actively remembers those who have served in the armed forces and the many who have made the ultimate sacrifice: giving their lives in service to the country. For many years, members of Post 256 have led an effort to place American flags on all veterans’ gravesites in Blowing Rock’s Woodlawn Cemetery, as well as in different parts of Watauga County.
COVER IMAGE: The American flag flying “half-mast” in Memorial Park on May 15, 2020. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Because there is not a three-day weekend associated with Peace Officers Memorial day on May 15th, many Americans have only a passing knowledge of it. For Yount, though, it is personal.
Flag etiquette on either of the Memorial Day holidays became a topic of conversation last week when we ran into Yount at a local eatery. Like many around town, we wondered why the flag flew at half staff on May 15th when there was no word of a significant military or government official’s passing. That is when Yount explained to us the special holiday to honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty as law enforcement officers.
In the U.S., more than 21,000 law enforcement officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their communities.
“Peace Officers Memorial Day honors those who have given their lives in the line of duty,” observed Yount. “Since America was founded, more than 21,000 officers have sacrificed their lives while working in law enforcement. Of course, that also includes what we knew as the ‘Wild West.’ But this law enforcement-focused Memorial Day recognizes all officers, past and present, for service to their respective communities.”
To Yount, Peace Officers Memorial Day carries special significance. Now serving his fourth term on the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners, explained to Blowing Rock News that his father, John Yount, was one of those 21,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. His last watch as a Catawba County Deputy Sheriff was on October 1. 2967, in a rural area near Newton, NC, while apprehending a spousal abuse perpetrator. He was just 56 years old.
The law enforcement-related Memorial Day has been going on for awhile now, and President Trump recognized it again this year from the White House. The holiday was created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and approved by Congress. Overall, this day is part of National Police Week, which is when tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, DC. Once there, they participate in a number of planned events that honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
North Carolina has seen 550 officer deaths, including two in Blowing Rock.
“Just like there are war memorials,” observed Yount, “there is a National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at Judiciary Square in our nation’s capital.”
According to the National Police Week website (policeweek.org), 188 officers gave their lives in the line of duty during calendar year 2019. The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund reports that between 1990 and 2010, the average number of officers killed in the line of duty was 164 per year. The Officer Down Memorial Page states that North Carolina has experienced 550 officer deaths, including in Blowing Rock and the High Country:
- 2 officers – Blowing Rock Police Department, including the late Chief of Police William Dean Greene, Sr., whose end of watch was Friday, January 18, 1963. He was shot and killed while pursuing a vehicle occupied by two men and two women at 1:30 am. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, “Unbeknownst to Chief Greene, the four had broken into a summer cottage in Blowing Rock. Before backup units arrived the suspects stopped the car and one of the male suspects opened fire on Chief Greene, striking him in the arm and back with a 410 gauge shotgun. Then both men stabbed him twice before fleeing. Chief Greene was able to make it back to his patrol car and radio in a description of the suspects, who were later arrested and charged with murder.”
- 3 officers – Boone Police Department
- 3 officers – Watauga County Sheriff’s Department
- 2 officers – Avery County Constable’s Office – Elk Park Precinct
- 5 officers – Avery County Sheriff’s Office
- 1 officer – Ashe County Sheriff’s Office
- 2 officers – Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office
Also related to the High Country, on October 15, 2960, North Carolina State Trooper David Searcy was killed in Catawba County, on what was then U.S. 64 (modern day U.S. 70). His grandson and namesake, David Searcy of Watauga County recently retired as a North Carolina State Trooper.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an amendment to the public law directing that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on May 15.
Each year, the then sitting President pays tribute at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on May 15th. President Barack Obama’s proclamation in 2013 read:
The 143 fallen officers we honor today put themselves on the front lines of that fight, to preserve that quality of community, and to protect the roots of our greatness. They exemplified the very idea of citizenship – that with our God-given rights come responsibilities and obligations to ourselves and to others. They embodied that idea. That’s the way they died. That’s how we must remember them. And that’s how we must live. We can never repay our debt to these officers and their families, but we must do what we can, with all that we have, to live our lives in a way that pays tribute to their memory. That begins, but does not end, by gathering here – with heavy hearts, to carve their names in stone, so that all will know them, and that their legacy will endure. We are grateful to them and we are grateful to you.
This year, President Donald Trump’s lengthy proclamation included the following passages:
We must continue working toward a time when all people respect and understand the important work that law enforcement officers do. Unfortunately, our law enforcement officers do not always receive the respect they deserve. These brave men and women must operate in an environment where their moral and legal authority is constantly being scrutinized, and they undertake the critical yet difficult task of addressing the actions of those affected by addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. Their ability to work well in the face of these and other challenges is extraordinary, and we have incredible appreciation for their public service and selflessness.
On behalf of our grateful Nation, we proudly recognize the more than 900,000 sworn members of law enforcement for their resolve and dedication in the face of dangerous uncertainty. The thoughts and prayers of our Nation are with them and their families, and we will always owe them our appreciation and support.
As a military veteran and having a father who served in law enforcement, Yount has a special perspective about how the two forms of service compare.
“In police work, there is more one-on-one contact in law enforcement than there is in the military,” Yount opined. “In my opinion, police work is actually more dangerous unless you are in a military combat zone. Human tension in instances like spousal abuse, for example, creates the potential for conflict. People’s blood gets hot and they do things that they normally would never do. And today, the world of law enforcement is changing, becoming even more dangerous when you consider the prevalence of narcotics usage, which can make people crazy. And then you have gang-related violence, which is focused on the large metropolitan areas but there are times when those gangs target small towns and more rural areas.”