EL CENTRO — A crowd of nearly 200 stood on the grounds of the El Centro Court House Friday as a motorcade representing all the various branches of law enforcement drove in with sirens droning, came to a stop, and officially opened the Ninth Imperial Valley Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. The drivers exited and stood beside their vehicles, the Blue Knights dismounted beside their motorcycles, and all stood with the crowd in quiet attention as two private large planes performed a flyover in honor of the fallen.
Nationally, 187 officers have made the final sacrifice during this past year, with 11 from California. But on Friday, a special emphasis was awarded the 39 Imperial Valley law enforcement officers who have fallen while on duty from 1920 to date, the last being Agent Robert Wimer Rosas of the United States Border Patrol on July 23, 2009.
Chaplain Jesse Salas of the United States Customs and Border protection gave the invocation during the ceremony, and the American flag was lowered to half mast while three high school students from Southwest SAVAPA sang the National Anthem. The students also sang God Bless America at the close.
The master of ceremonies was El Centro Police Department Chief Eddie Madueno. He expressed in passionate terms the real concern facing all officers in recent years, that of the “haters” in the national media and across the country in certain sections of the public.
“That line matters. What our fallen brothers and sisters did, matters. What doesn’t matter is the national media that do not support law enforcement. What doesn’t matter are the haters. After 33 years in law enforcement, I worry about the ability to fill our ranks,” said Madueno.
“Honor, integrity matter,” Madueno continued. He reminded his fellow members in all agencies, “You’re the thin blue line protecting everyone.” The chief inferred that this may be his last year actively serving after 33 years, but continued his encouragement, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, never doubt that you can make a difference. Stay the course, because it matters.”
Madueno also credited his faith in God for helping him weather the storm himself. “Say your prayers. Faith is important.”
President Andy Powell of Concerns of Police Survivors also spoke about losing loved ones who serve in law enforcement. “A loss for everyone is difficult,” Powell said. “A loss shared with the public, you get no time alone, no privacy. Your grief is watched by thousands.”
Like Madueno, Powell mentioned that law enforcement and their families have to endure the hatred of major media, but he acknowledged that “we know a majority of citizens are truly appreciative.”
Local Superior Court Judge Marco Nunez rounded out the slate of speakers.
Madueno returned to explain the symbolism as a riderless horse with its black saddle and tack was led to the front of the court house. The steed had empty black cavalry boots hanging backwards in the stirrups signifying the rider has completed his service and would ride no more. The empty boots represented the rider taking one last look backwards at the family left behind.
Madueno then called Assistant Chief Patrol Agent, David Kim, of the U. S. Border Patrol forward to read the 39 names of the local fallen. To represent each of the fallen officers, uniformed officers of local police, Border Patrol, immigration, FBI, Sheriff’s Office, railroad police, Fish and Game, and corrections and rehabilitation, came up to ring a bell before stepping up onto the courthouse steps.
The flag was raised to full mast by the Color Guard from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a 21-gun salute, followed by taps played by Sergeant Robert Silva (CDCR). Then, as the flag was lowered and folded, Madueno read the significance of each fold emphasizing remembrance of the lost, of trust in the triune God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his divine guidance, and for country and family.
The flag has flown over each and every law enforcement agency in our Valley and was given in person at the ceremony to the widow of Lieutenant Robert A. Flynt of the California Department of Fish and Game, whose watch ended May 11, 1984.
Deacon Refugio Gonzales of Centinela State Prison gave the benediction asking God to grant law enforcement everywhere the strength and courage to serve all people.
U.S. Border Patrol Pipes from San Diego played again as the crowd crunched their blue glow sticks to close the event with a candlelight vigil.
“We pause to reflect upon those who have shaped our character, molded our spirits and touched our hearts,” Madueno said. “May the lighting of these glow sticks be a reminder of the memories we have shared, a representation of the everlasting impact they have made upon our lives.”
In the silence, a lone call could be heard over the sound system from the El Centro Police Department Dispatch calling for “Unit 39,” a representation of the 39 fallen Valley officers as a single body.
The local Law Enforcement Memorial Committee is still seeking funding to construct an approved, permanent monument at the Pioneers Museum on Aten Road. California Highway Patrol Sergeant Wes Boerner, chair of the committee, has been “the mover and the shaker this year,” said retired Imperial County Probation Manager Pam Littrell.