Memorial tree honors fallen officers
BY AMELIA HARPER
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
NASHVILLE — A very special Christmas tree now stands in front of the Nashville Police Department as it honors the memory of law enforcement officers across the state who ended their watch in the service of their fellow man.
This year, 555 names were added to the tree, representing the record of final sacrifice given by North Carolina law enforcement officers since 1881. This year, five new names were added to the tree including Goldsboro police Maj. Jay Memmelaar Jr., who died during a training exercise in February; Sgt. Meggan Callahan, who was killed by an inmate at the Bertie Correctional Institute in April; and Correctional Officer Justin Smith, Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden and Correctional Officer Wendy Shannon, who all died as the result of an attempted prison escape at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in October.
“More people needed to be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice these officers have given through the years,” said Gene Harris, who attended the ceremonial installation of the tree on Sunday. Harris spent 32 years in law enforcement, including 26 years with the Weldon Police Department and six years with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office.
The North Carolina Fallen Law Enforcement Memorial Tree is the brain child of Nash County woman Carie Jones. Jones first placed the tree in her own yard five years ago to honor the memory of her uncle, former Sharpsburg Police Chief Wayne Hathaway, who ended his watch more than 20 years ago on July 18, 1997, Jones said.
Since then, the tree was placed in front of the Spring Hope Police Department in 2015 and at the Sharpsburg Police Department last year. This year, the Nashville Police Department was selected to host the memorial tree.
“We are honored to host the memorial tree,” said Nashville Police Chief Tom Bashore. “Anything we can do to honor the memory of fallen officers is welcome.”
Mark Tuck’s step son, Brandon Coker, gave his life in the service of law enforcement in April 2009 when he was serving with the Vance County Sheriff’s Department. As Tuck watched the names being hung on the tree, he reflected on the meaning of the memorial.
“This is an awesome experience,” Tuck said. “This is a good way to honor fallen officers. People in law enforcement have always had it tough and it is not getting any easier. All we can do is shake their hands and pat them on the back when they walk among us and when they are gone, honor them the best way we can and put arms around their families.”