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Honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice

The St. Croix County Color guard at last week's ceremony honoring police officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. (Raymond T. Rivard photo)1 / 4
Bagpipe music was provided, as well as music from the Somerset High School band and choir at last week's program honoring all policemen who have given their lives in the line of duty. The program was held at Somerset High School. (Raymond T. Rivard photo)2 / 4
St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham (right) was the keynote speaker at last week's annual ceremony honoring fallen policemen. (Raymond T. Rivard photo)3 / 4
New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik provides the police officer's prayer at last week's annual memorial program honoring those police officers who have died in the line of duty. (Raymond T. Rivard photo)4 / 4

Dozens of area police officers, their families, friends and acquaintances came together May 17 at Somerset High School for the annual St. Croix County Law Enforcement Memorial — an event held to honor police officers who have given their life in the line of duty.

With lights dimmed and bagpipe music being played by Anthony Howe, officers, families and community members filed into the school building to pay tribute to the work of all police officers, but most importantly the memory of officers from across the region, the state and the country who have paid with their lives.

The ceremony began with the posting of the colors by the St. Croix County Law Enforcement Color Guard. Under the direction of Somerset high school concert choir director Jaimie Palbicki, the National Anthem was sung a capella.

St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts provided the introduction that was followed by the opening prayer by Kevin Morris, St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office chaplain.

“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to the importance of this work, the importance of the families with whom we live, the importance of the relationships we have …,” Morris said in leading the group in prayer.

Scott Needham, chief judge of the 10th District and St. Croix County Court Judge, was the evening’s keynote speaker.

He told of growing up in a home with a father who was a police officer and the influence it played in his life’s journey.

“It is an honor and a privilege to speak at this event … I am truly humbled,” Needham said in opening his address.

“I grew up in central Wisconsin, specifically Clark County … I grew up as a ‘PK.’ Now in most small towns that acronym would stand for ‘preacher’s kid.’ But in my case it meant ‘policeman’s kid.’”

He went on to explain how his father began his police career in 1962 — as a road deputy and continuing on as police chief in Loyal.

“I can recall his sense of duty and his commitment to the greater good. His belief in enforcing the laws and protecting the public came before himself. His closest friends were officers from other municipalities and agencies … public service brought with it an expectation — a role … that required dedication and keen awareness.”

Needham said he was humbled by those officers who, after his father had died, came to his wake to pay their respects. Many of these officers were men who had not known his father, but paid their last respects “out of honor and duty.

“So, tonight, as a judge, as a citizen, and as a son of a policeman I am here to pay tribute to those who have given the greatest sacrifice and to honor those who continue to wear the badge. It is a deep and humbling honor to join all of you here tonight and to have the opportunity to celebrate the men and women who patrol our streets, guard our communities and keep our nation … safe from harm.

“I often ask what inspired my dad … to be a policeman. Each officer here tonight probably has a different answer. But whatever the reason, it is the willingness to protect and serve that inspires us. It takes a special type of person to serve in law enforcement. Most people run from danger … law enforcement officers run toward it … Most officers return home every evening, but as we also know, some are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is a heavy burden that each police officer accepts willingly … without their sacrifice, there would be no justice. We don’t thank you enough and frankly, we can’t thank you enough.”

The presentation of wreaths was made by Deputy Derek Wells, St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office; officer Kory Evans, Roberts Police Department; officer Joel Trepczyk, Somerset Police Department; and Sgt. Mitch Thomason, St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office.

Several officers from across the area read the names as the pictures of officers from across the nation who had fallen in 2015 were displayed on screen.

The reading of the names was followed by the playing of “Taps” by Connor Darrow, the reading of the Law Enforcement Memorial Prayer by New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik, and the Correctional Officer Prayer by Deputy Aaron Alberts of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office.

The evening’s ceremony was concluded with the playing of “America the Beautiful” by the Somerset High School concert band under the direction of Eric Possehl.

Sheriff John Shilts provided closing remarks, and the benediction provided by Curt Thomassen, chaplain of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, was followed by the retirement of the colors.

But it was the words of Judge Needham that rang through the hall and offered the defining moment that captured the essence of the evening: “These men and women place the security of others above their own. Their selfless actions continue to guide and inspire all of us … I can think of no greater definition of a hero.”