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Ceremony honors fallen law enforcement heroes

Dozens of area law enforcement and public safety personnel, along with their families, attended a somber St. Croix County Law Enforcement Memorial Day event May 15.

The gathering was the first such local memorial ceremony, which focused on those officers, deputies and public employees who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2012. A list of more than 150 names was read aloud as part of the evening.

"We are here to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice," St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts told the crowd of several hundred. "And give our special thanks to our families and to our community members."

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack offered the keynote address for the ceremony.

She spoke about the "selfless courage" that all law enforcement and public safety employees demonstrate on a daily basis. They serve despite the obvious dangers that are part of the job, she said.

"Law enforcement is not just a profession," she said. "It's a calling. And it takes a special person to answer that calling."

Roggensack said the state and each community owes a debt of gratitude for all those who serve and protect the public.

"They give us so much and ask for so little," she said.

Roggensack took several moments to honor Fund du Lac police officer Craig Birkholz, who was shot and killed on March 20, 2011. When Birkholz and a second officer responded to an incident at a local home, a suspect opened fire from the second floor of the home, striking Birkholz, the other officer, and a K9.

Birkholz had served with the Fond du Lac Police Department for two years and had previously served combat tours of duty with the United States Army in Iraq and Afghanistan where he obtained the rank of sergeant. The Wisconsin officer's name was officially added to the National Peace Officer's Memorial at a special ceremony also on May 15.

"He loved life and lived it well," Roggensack said.

Several prayers were offered for law enforcement and correctional officers, asking God for protection, comfort, wisdom and blessings.

In wrapping up the evening, Shilts urged those in attendance to treasure their times together as no one ever knows what the future will bring.

He urged law enforcement personnel to conduct their jobs in a professional manner that would honor those who have sacrificed so much in the past.

"Do your best to honor their legacy by following your oath," Shilts said. "And do whatever you can to go home each night."

The ceremony included musical selections by the New Richmond High School Chamber Music Ensemble, as well as the playing of "Taps" by band director Matt Mealey. A bagpipe player also played several musical selections to set the tone for the evening.