MANNING - The thin blue line that is synonymous with law enforcement may be narrow, but its symbolism is paramount to the men and women who swear an oath to protect.
It's a thin line that separates the good and bad, order and chaos and, at times, …
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It's a thin line that separates the good and bad, order and chaos and, at times, the difference between life and death. The thin line also symbolizes the closeness of the men and women who hold it in utmost reverence. It's a closeness that brings them together to honor and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Gone but not forgotten is more than just a phrase for law enforcement. It's a commitment. It's their way of life, and it's a pledge from them to those who died.
On Wednesday, current and retired law enforcement officers, family members of fallen officers, as well as friends and supporters of law enforcement gathered at the Clarendon County Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial to show their support for fallen officers in Clarendon County, the state and the nation.
"We wanted to remember these officers," said retired law enforcement officer Pete Surrette at the Wednesday ceremony in Manning. "They are gone but not forgotten."
Surrette, along with event organizer Chief Deputy Gene Morris with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office, Maj. Billy Downer with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Investigator Ben Price with the Florence County Sheriff's Office, family members of fallen officers and supporters met at the memorial for a brief ceremony before Morris, Surrette and other avid bikers left on an 80-mile trek to honor fallen officers. The journey originated in Manning, took the group through Sumter and ended in Florence County.
Each year the week of May 11-17 is designated as National Police Week. Thousands of law enforcement personnel, as well as the families and peers of officers who died in the line of duty, gather to remember the fallen officers through a variety of meetings and a thin blue line ceremony in Washington. While many of the attendees fly or drive to the event, groups of dedicated officers and support personnel trek to the event by bicycling.
"Since everything was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of local law enforcement officers that ride with these groups wanted to express to the survivors of our surrounding counties that their loved ones are never forgotten," Morris said.
Morris said this year's local ride would end at the Florence Regional Airport to honor "not only all fallen officers, but also the 2019 fallen officers and the most recent 2020 officer that was killed in the line of duty at the airport."
Morris said he, Surrette and Price would wear their cycling jerseys to represent Law Enforcement United, Honor Roll and FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) during the local ride. Morris, Surrette and Price have ridden with officers from FLETC on the yearly ride which traditionally began at FLETC headquarters in Georgia, picked up riders in South Carolina and traveled to Washington to participate in the National Police Week activities. The journey would cover more than 1,200 miles with bikers braving all types of weather conditions to make it to Washington on time.
"There will be well over a thousand cyclists entering Washington to meet with survivors of the fallen," Morris added. "Once there, checks will be presented to Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) for their annual kids' camp, the Officer Down Memorial Page that honors our fallen and to the Spirit of Blue Foundation."
Two widows of fallen officers and a mother of an officer who died in 2018 attended the ceremony in Manning.
"I was so happy that our local LEOs and community members were going to do the Honor Ride," said Tonia Mallett-Smith, whose husband, Investigator Holmes N. Smith Jr. with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office, died in the line of duty in November 2014. "Since 2015, my family has welcomed the hundreds of riders from all over the nation into D.C. during National Police Week."
Smith said she and others were saddened when this year's National Police Week was canceled due to COVID-19.
"We are so glad that our local communities remember the sacrifices of our heroes and wanted to show us that they will never be forgotten," Mallett-Smith added. "Events like these are not easy, but it's nice to know our loved ones will always be remembered."
Angie Haynes, the widow of fallen South Carolina Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. James Haynes, also attended Wednesday's ceremony. Haynes was killed in February 2008 while responding to a traffic stop in Orangeburg County.
Katie Godwin, the mother of Florence County Deputy Farrah Turner, who died in October 2018 from gunshot wounds she received when assisting other officers in serving a search warrant, attended.
"She was truly a wonderful person," Godwin said. "It's so nice to have her remembered like this."
Prior to Wednesday's ceremony, Morris, Surrette, Downer and others took moments to read over the names on the monument and remember the fallen peers and loved ones.
"I knew so many of them," Downer said when looking at the monument. "So many of them."
Morris said he keeps riding and supporting these events because he wants the loved ones of the fallen officers and the community to know that they died serving others.
"Remember that the fallen are never forgotten," he said.
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