Officers ride through New Phila on way to D.C.

Officers ride through New Phila on way to D.C.
Lori Feeney

Police officers from New York, Virginia, Minnesota, South Carolina and other states rode through New Philadelphia on their way to Washington, D.C. to commemorate fellow officers killed in the line of duty.

                        

About a dozen current and retired police officers from various points across the nation rolled through New Philadelphia last Tuesday morning, stopping briefly to refuel at the Daily Grind.

The officers, all members of Law Enforcement United, were on a memorial ride to honor fellow officers who have died in the line of duty. The final destination is Washington, D.C., where they will take part in a number of activities as part of National Police Week, which this year is May 15-21.

Police work is fraught with peril, and many officers sacrifice their lives every year to help keep communities safe. In 2021, 472 officers across the U.S. were killed in the line of duty, according to the National Officers Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, which sponsors the police week event in D.C. and funds a museum and national memorial wall. The names of new officers are added to the wall each year.

The phrase “killed in the line of duty” doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer was working at the moment of his or her death. It also includes those whose lives are cut short as a result of something that happened on the job, even if it happens years later.

The officers who make the trek to D.C. each year give the phrase “going the extra mile” a whole new meaning. The group who came through New Philadelphia will have traveled about 1,300 miles on two wheels by the time they reach the nation’s capital.

Many of the officers have made the trip for years. “We all have someone we’ve lost,” officer John Donaggio of the Arlington, Virginia Police Department said. “We do this to remember them and to support the families.”

Hunt Taylor, retired Virginia Beach officer, has made the annual journey since 2007.

“We’ve actually lost three officers who have ridden with us in the past,” said Taylor, who also said the riders have to take time off without pay and pay for their own meals and hotels along the way. “But it’s worth it. There’s always someone special that you touch or that touches you, and they never forget that you came through their town.”

Rick Gallo, coordinator for the group and an officer from Brooklyn, New York, has six friends whose names are on the memorial wall in D.C.

“They are guys that I was in college with, people who I went to the academy with, and two people I know from 9-11, so it’s personal and it’s professional,” said Gallo, who has been riding since 2004.

Ryan Peterson from the Plymouth, Minnesota Police Department said he rides because of something a fellow officer once told him. “When my buddy was in training, he said his trainer told him, ‘Do something bigger than your job.’ For me, this is something bigger.”

The long ride

Gallo said his division of LEU participates in what is called the long ride.

“We do a ride that is 1,000 miles, stopping at various departments and sheriff’s offices on the way and hold memorial services for their fallen officers,” Gallo said.

“We meet the survivors in the community, and that’s really fantastic,” Taylor said. “It’s what keeps us going.”

After the long ride, the group will join about 1,000 other riders and continue on a three-day ride into Washington, D.C.

COPS Kids Camp

Officers participating in the short ride must commit to raising at least $1,500 to support the Concerns of Police Survivors and its summer camp for children and teens who have had a parent die in the line of duty.

“COPS is the group that no officer wants their family to be a member of,” Gallo said.

The cost of the week-long camp in Wisconsin is fully covered for all kids who attend. The camp aims to help survivors process their grief and the sudden nature of their loss.

“These kids get an opportunity to be around other kids they can relate to,” Taylor said. “They can’t just go up to another kid in school and say, ‘Hey, someone executed my dad,’ but when they go to the camp, everybody there is just like them. They form friendships and bonds that transcend anything else. Many of them go on to become counselors. It’s really an amazing way to give back to those who’ve lost a parent in the line of duty.”

Gallo said members of LEU also raise money for the Officer Down Memorial Page at www.odmp.com and the Spirit of Blue Foundation, which gives grants to local police departments for purchasing bullet-proof vests and other safety equipment.

It doesn’t end when the ride ends

Every year each rider who participates is assigned an officer who was killed in the line of duty. “You reach out to that family and offer support,” Peterson said. “I continue to stay in contact after the ride through Facebook and send messages throughout the year, especially on important events like their anniversary date.”

Peterson has the names of the first five officers he honored on the ride tattooed on the back of his right calf. “I have their names and their end-of-watch dates there,” said Peterson, who has arranged to have flags flown over the U.S. Capitol on some of their anniversary dates.

“I had three planes flown over the U.S. Capitol on Gerald Rex’s 10-year anniversary,” he said.

Lt. Rex died from illnesses caused by inhaling toxic materials while helping in the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was 62 years old and had served 38 years on the force.

Peterson plans to add more names on his other leg and may have to use other parts of his body, depending on how long he rides.

The city of New Philadelphia has never lost an officer in the line of duty. Should it ever happen, it’s good to know there are officers like those who pedaled through the area last week who will carry the torch in remembrance, even if they have to carry it more than 1,000 miles.


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