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Fort Worth 'takes responsibility' to honor fallen heroes

By Craig W. Floyd
Reprinted with permission of the author and American Police Beat

FORT WORTH, Texas — “We do two things very well in Fort Worth,” declared Mayor Mike Moncrief. “When we are proud of something, we take ownership. But, when we’re not proud of something, we take responsibility. We’re not proud that a year ago at this time, we were the largest city in the country without a memorial to honor our fallen. As of today, that is no longer the case.”

More than 1,000 law enforcement officers, firefighters, survivors of the fallen and other dignitaries and citizen supporters, including this writer, joined Mayor Moncrief on June 5, 2009, for the official dedication of the Fort Worth Police & Firefighters Memorial. The $1.2 million monument was funded by private donations and was 20 years in the making. The project suffered a number of fits and starts, but Mayor Moncrief credited his wife, Rosie, for helping him and the Fort Worth Police & Firefighters Memorial Board of Directors (co-chaired by Bob Kolba and John Stevenson) to “move this monument from just a drawing on a piece of paper to a reality.”

The Memorial, one of the largest in the country, sits on five acres in a serene slice of Fort Worth called Trinity Park. It is highlighted by a statue consisting of a saddled riderless horse with boots turned backward in the stirrup, symbolizing a missing comrade, led by a law officer on one side and a firefighter on the other. Behind the statue is a black wall of granite, inscribed with the names of Fort Worth’s 95 public safety officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, including three deputy marshals, 55 police officers and 37 firefighters.

Mayor Moncrief described the Memorial as “a place of contemplation . . . a place to mourn . . . a place to honor . . . and a place to rejoice in a life well-lived.”

A path leading up to the statue and wall of names contains memorial plaques telling the stories of selected fallen heroes from the different eras in Fort Worth history. The first law officer plaque explains that Fort Worth Deputy Marshal George H. White, 21, had arrested a horse thief on August 2, 1879, and was transporting him back to town when he was ambushed and mortally wounded by the prisoner’s family and friends.

A few feet further down the pathway, visitors are reminded of the story of Fort Worth Police Officer George Turner. Around 1 am, on May 21, 1928, Officer Turner, 32, spotted a car that had tried to run him down earlier in the week while on bicycle duty. Along with two other officers, he gave chase in a patrol car and pulled the suspect’s vehicle over. As the three officers approached the car, the driver drew a pistol and began firing. Officer Turner, after just one year of service, was shot and killed. He left behind a wife and three-year-old daughter.

Detective Henry Cleveland joined the Fort Worth Police Department at the age of 21 in 1923. He served for 29 years. His distinguished law enforcement career ended on February 7, 1952, when he was shot and killed while searching a house for a robbery suspect.

The last of the memorial plaques along the pathway honors Police Officer Henry Paul Mailloux. On November 29, 1975, he was gunned down with a shot to the chest after stopping a vehicle with license plates matching a car used in an armed robbery the night before. The parents of Officer Mailloux were later responsible for convincing the City of Fort Worth to issue protective body armor to all of its officers.

After Mayor Moncrief’s speech, the Roll of Honor was read. After the fallen firefighters were read, Fort Worth City Marshal Jesus Hernandez read the names of the three deputy city marshals who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Delbert Willis, a reporter for the Fort Worth Press, wrote in 1938 that “a bushy moustache, a pair of six-shooters, a defiant tongue and a reputation for loving danger, were the requirements for those early-day men of law who carried the awesome title of [Fort Worth] city marshal. Almost every man in town qualified,” he added. Columbus C. Fitzgerald had held the job on an interim basis in 1875, and was serving as the Deputy City Marshal on the night of August 25, 1877, when he was shot and mortally wounded trying to break up a fight. He would die of his wounds the following day, making him the first law enforcement officer in the history of Fort Worth to be killed performing his duties.

Next on the list of name readers was Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead. One of the names he read was Andrew J. Grimes, a Fort Worth police officer who was shot and killed on May 12, 1902. Officer Grimes, 39, had cited a hack driver for a parking violation at the train station. The driver became enraged and when Officer Grimes handed him the summons to sign, the violator pulled out a gun and fired five shots, killing Officer Grimes. The killer was originally sentenced to death, but the punishment was later reduced and he only served two years for the offense.

Prior to the ceremony, Sergeant Kevin Foster—the man responsible for researching most of the stories behind each of Fort Worth’s fallen heroes—introduced me to Roy Grimes, the grandson of Andrew Grimes. Roy and his family, including Andrew’s great-great-grandson, had driven 300 miles from Lubbock (TX) to be at the ceremony. Roy told me that he had followed in his grandfather’s public service footsteps by serving for 60 years in the U.S. Navy before they “made him retire.” His grandfather had died more than 100 years earlier, but still there was a break in his voice as Roy spoke about the tragedy his family had suffered and the importance of having his loved one honored in this special way.

Rick Van Houten, President of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, had graciously arranged for me to conclude the names reading. Among the names I read were Henry “Hank” Nava Jr. and Dwayne N. Freeto, the two most recent officers killed in Fort Worth. Officer Nava died on December 1, 2005, from a gunshot wound to the head while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. On December 17, 2006, Officer Freeto was killed when his patrol car was rear-ended by a drunken driver after pulling over to assist a motorist with a flat tire.

These two officers had died under Mayor Moncrief’s watch, and in the years that followed he had been wearing memory bracelets in their honor. After the ceremony was over, Mayor Moncrief quietly slipped away from the crowd and went over to the Memorial wall. He removed the bracelets and left them there as a personal tribute to those two brave officers. The bracelets had now been replaced by a majestic monument—a legacy of remembrance and hope that Mayor Moncrief and the City of Fort Worth created in honor of Hank Nava, Dwayne Freeto and 93 other fallen American heroes.

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