By Jesse Wood
July 31, 2014. Days after Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman spoke before the crowd of about 200 at the dedication ceremony of the Watauga County Fallen Officer Law Enforcement Memorial this past weekend, Hagaman provided his entire speech at the request of High Country Press.
Asked how tough of a speech it was to give, Hagaman simply said, “Hopefully, it was from the heart.”
And anybody who heard that speech in person or reads a transcript of it below can tell that it definitely was purely from the heart. He spoke about humanity and he spoke about law enforcement officers in general and the dangers they are exposed to. And he spoke about Deputy William Mast, who died while responding to a domestic altercation on July 26, 2012 – two years to the day before the dedication ceremony.
“Things changed for us here on July 26, 2012. We felt the night. The night that we were so acquainted with, was now choking us. We felt helpless. One of our officers, William Mast, was shot and killed while trying to protect a family from an abusive husband, fighting his own demon’s – that of alcohol and narcotics,” Hagaman said at the ceremony. “My world changed and will never be the same. Yet, The world didn’t stop because Will Mast was killed. There were, and are, still calls to answer, issues to deal with, dark places to go when someone calls.”
“We MUST continue our mission as a tribute to the fallen,” Hagaman continued.
See the entire speech below, and see photos of the event, too.
Before I begin, let me say that I am so very honored to say a few words this evening…AND
May I ask that any current, and past Law Enforcement Officers to, please stand (if you can), and remain standing,
I would like to ask that the spouses and families of these servants, please stand.
It is tough being the spouse and/or family of a law enforcement officer.
[Please join me in formally thanking these individuals – Applause]
Over the past few months, as I saw the physical reality of this memorial come to life, I thought how best to convey a message of encouragement…
I think it all boils down of how faith, spirituality, and God influences and impacts our mission, especially as it had, and continues to, impact us, even in our darkest of days.
I can honestly say, that a day doesn’t go by without the influence of faith and God to that mission.
It may not be in caps,
It may not be in red letters,
Or in bold type,
It may not even be recognized as always “running in the background…”
But it is there……………ever present,
As it should be.
Few professions, other than a Military Commander, First Responder Commander, Fire Chief, Police Chief, or Sheriff,
send our coworkers into harm’s way – many times knowing that the outcome will result in the loss of that coworker’s life.
Or, to consciously and intentionally give the order to take a life – to command the use of deadly force.
An awesome responsibility indeed.
This time of reflection should serve as a reminder to all of us that when the unthinkable happens, it can have a profound effect on the officers’ coworkers, as well as their, and our, families and friends – forever.
We still search daily for answers.
It is a perilous time for our first responders and officers – including detention staff – and, also for our military personnel, at home and abroad, as we wage the war on terrorism and crime.
Permit me to read briefly from several “officer down” pages to hear and feel the influence God has in our professional lives.
The First says, Chief of Police Hill Hagaman, age, 41, of the Boone Police Department, North Carolina,
End of Watch: Tuesday, October 10, 1933.
Chief Hagaman was shot and killed while conducting a liquor raid on a service station with a deputy sheriff. The two men had just located 22 pints of whiskey when the 21 year old attendant produced a pistol and shot Chief Hagaman twice. The deputy returned fire, slightly wounding the suspect and took him into custody.
Chief Hagaman was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his wounds 5 days later.
The living survivors of the Hill Hagaman family, Ted Hagaman and Ted Hagaman, Jr. also experienced the loss of a brother and uncle, Paul Dixon Hagaman, age 26, on February 12, 1945 while flying “The Hump” during the Second World War from the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort and units of the US Army Air Forces based in China from April 1942 to November 1945.
The Second reads, Chief of Police William Dean Greene, Sr., age 28, of the Blowing Rock Police Department, North Carolina,
End of Watch: Friday, January 18, 1963.
Chief Greene was shot and killed while pursuing a vehicle occupied by two men and two women at 0130 hours. Unbeknownst to Chief Greene the four had broken into a summer cottage in Blowing Rock. Before backup units arrived the suspects stopped the car and one of the male suspects opened fire on Chief Greene, striking him in the arm and back with a 410 gauge shotgun.
Then both men stabbed him twice before fleeing. Chief Greene was able to make it back to his patrol car and radio in a description of the suspects, who were later arrested and charged with murder.
The suspect who shot Chief Greene was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison on March 1, 1963. He died in prison on December 29, 1992.
The other male suspect was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years. He was paroled on September 3, 1975.
The two women pled guilty to manslaughter.
Chief Greene was survived by his wife, Louise (Absher) and two children, Dean and Regina.
The third reads, Major Robert Kennedy, age 46, of the Boone Police Department, and Sergeant Anthony Futrell, age 38, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and Deputy Richard Ashley, age 36, of the Chowan County Sheriff’s Department, were killed in an airplane accident while searching for marijuana crops in Chowan County at 3:30 pm.
End of Watch: June 17, 2002.
Approximately 90 minutes into the second flight of the day, the Cessna 172-S experienced problems and crashed. Witnesses on the ground heard the engine sputter and saw the plane nose dive into the ground. There were no radio messages from the pilots indicating any problems.
Sergeant Futrell and Major Kennedy, both members of the Civil Air Patrol, were piloting the aircraft and acting as spotters. Deputy Ashley was directing ground units to locations spotted during the flight for further investigation.
Bob is survived by his wife, Carrie and a son Kyle.
Finally, the fourth reads, “Deputy Sheriff William Mast, age 23, was mortally wounded as he responded to a 911 call with an open line at a trailer home on Hardin Road in Deep Gap, North Carolina, at approximately 1:00 am.
End of Watch: July 26, 2012.
Upon arriving at the scene he began walking towards the house when he was shot. It is believed the subject who shot him intentionally ambushed him. Another deputy with him returned fire killing the suspect.
At the time of his death, Deputy Mast had served with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office for three years.
He was survived by his then expectant wife Paige, parents, and a brother.
William now has an unseen and unheld son, Hunter, who was born two 2 weeks following William’s death.
These stories speak for themselves. It was a dangerous world then, and it is now.
We also honor other heroes, our, “hometown heroes” as they are referred to –
Those who passed away quietly and humbly, but possessed the same zeal and love for their own calling, while serving as law enforcement officers, they are:
Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Deputy, Sergeant Joseph Patrick Baker and;
Boone Police Patrol Officer, Patrolman John Knapp.
It may be true that it is not much different now than when Chief Hagaman and his Deputy partner was conducting that liquor raid back in 1933.
But, hopefully, we are smarter than we used to be.
We are better at what we do.
We have had a lot of practice.
Our equipment is better.
Our training and technology is better.
Our vehicles and weapons are better.
But, in the end, it all boils down to People,
People who, after all, are fragile.
Rest assured that we will honor our men and women who have fallen before, just as we honor, and remember, our own Watauga County Law Enforcement Officers today.
Someday, any of us may, indeed, be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of our duty.
But, we know that already.
We do not need to be reminded of that.
We understand what is expected.
The families of our fallen and you…
You, Watauga County…
Remember that being a law enforcement officer, or first responder, is indeed…
As it is with our ministers…
Remember that we cannot help ourselves.
We must continue in the service of our community because it really is,
So, as we gather here today,
Let us remember, “there is no greater call in life than when a man, or woman, lays down his, or her, life in the service of others.”
Please understand that the names carved on this monument, never wanted the spotlight, and always put the welfare of others especially, their brothers and sisters, above themselves.
Our freedom and safety is a precious gift, bestowed on all of us at enormous cost.
President John F. Kennedy remarked in a speech at Amherst College in 1963;
“A nation reveals itself, not only by the men that it produces, but also by the men it honors –
the men it remembers”
The words of that speech should to continue to stir our thoughts and give us pause to reflect – because…
Those words continue to be so true today, as they were then.
In that same speech JFK referred to the night in a poem by Robert Frost…
The difference between good and evil,
Faith and non-faith, and
God…and separation from God, is reflected by this simple contrast between day and night.
We, as your, and God’s servants, know the night literally.
The darkness is the time when evil feels more comfortable, anonymous, and bold.
With night comes darkness, uncertainty, and for many fear.
The unknown, is many times what we are asked to deal with.
We are asked to swallow our own fear and make instantaneous decisions to things that occur, of which we have very little information or control.
To solve problems with no clear solutions, and to go places where no one wants to go.
Our society expects this from us.
We are the surrogates for you…
We take the place of others when things are bad, when things are dangerous, when things are out of control.
We see the terrible sights that no one else should ever see.
We deal with sadness and evil and injustice that no one else wants to deal with.
We consider it to be an honor to be society’s surrogate.
Sometimes though, as we act as surrogate, bad things happen to us.
When an officer goes down………things change.
That night that we are so acquainted with, seems darker than before.
The bad things we deal with seem worse.
When an officer goes down………………………………
Things changed for us here on July 26, 2012.
We felt the night
The night that we were so acquainted with, was now choking us.
We felt helpless.
One of our officers, William Mast, was shot and killed while trying to protect a family from an abusive husband, fighting his own demon’s – that of alcohol and narcotics.
My world changed and will never be the same.
The world didn’t stop because Will Mast was killed.
There were, and are, still calls to answer, issues to deal with, dark places to go when someone calls.
We MUST continue our mission as a tribute to the fallen.
We MUST not stop what we are doing.
We MUST remember our fallen by the way we conduct ourselves – professionally and personally.
The flags and pins;
are only material items.
They serve to focus our memories,
but the real honor is how we carry on.
You and I
And always with God at our side…
Yes, we are all affected when we one of our brothers or sisters are killed.
However, I promise you. It shall not dissuade us from the way that we conduct ourselves.
It won’t affect the way that we focus on our mission.
We shall honor those that have fallen by the service that we give you.
As a leader, I must encourage those we send in harm’s way to concentrate on the good things.
I know that our fallen would want it that way.
We miss them, and we shall always remember;
The voice on the radio…
The time a patrol car was covered with sticky notes…
The stuffed deer head retrieved from a dumpster, and left on a supervisor’s desk…
Our fallen heroes are always with us, in our hearts and in our memories.
Many years ago a person asked, “Why do you want to be a cop?”
So you can drive fast and write a bunch of tickets?
Do you think you are some sort of hero…?
We are never truly asked to be a hero…
It sometimes – just turns out that way
May I ask that each of you extend your hand to your neighbor and by a simple grasp of our hands, we become one – united – as I pray,
Lord, we ask for courage
Courage to face and conquer our own fears
Courage to take us where others will not go
I ask for strength
Strength of body to protect others
And strength of spirit to lead others
I ask for dedication
Dedication to our jobs, and to do it well
Dedication to our community, to keep it safe
And, please, Lord, through it all, be by our side.
May God bless us, comfort us, and keep us safe – always.
Please pray for us – for that is all we really want and ask.
Finally, let me read for you a commentary from the late Commentator Paul Harvey.
WHAT ARE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS MADE OF?
A Law Enforcement Officer is a composite of what all men are a mingling of – a saint and sinner, dust and deity.
Gulled statistics wave the fan over the stinkers; underscore instances of dishonesty and brutality because they are “new”.
What they really mean is that they are exceptional, unusual, and not commonplace.
Buried under the frost is the fact: Less than one-half of one percent of Law Enforcement misfit the uniform.
That’s a better average than you’d find among clergy!
SO, what is a Law Enforcement Officer made of?
He, of all men and women, is once the most needed and the most unwanted.
He’s a strangely nameless creature who is “sir” to his face and “fuzz” to his back.
He must be such a diplomat that he can settle differences between individuals, so that each will think they won.
But…If the Law Enforcement Officer is neat, he’s conceited;
If he’s careless, he’s a bum.
If he’s pleasant, he’s flirting; if not, he’s a grouch.
He must make an instant decision which would require months for a lawyer to make.
But…If he hurries, he’s careless;
If he’s deliberate, he’s lazy.
He must be first to an accident and infallible with his diagnosis.
He must be able to start breathing, stop bleeding, tie splints and, above all, be sure the victim goes home without a limp. Or, expect to be sued.
The Law Enforcement Officer must know every gun, draw on the run, and hit where it doesn’t hurt.
He must be able to whip two men twice his size and half his age without damaging his uniform and without being “brutal”.
If you hit him, he’s a coward. If he hits you, he’s a bully.
A Law Enforcement Officer must know everything – and not tell.
He must know where all the sin is, and not partake.
A Law Enforcement Officer must, from a single strand of hair, be able to describe the crime, the weapon and the criminal- and tell you where the criminal is hiding.
But…If he catches the criminal, he’s lucky;
If he doesn’t, he’s a dunce.
If he gets promoted, he has political pull; if he doesn’t, he’s a dullard.
The Law Enforcement Officer must chase a bum lead to a dead-end, stake out ten nights to tag one witness who saw it happen – but refused to remember.
The Law Enforcement Officer must be a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy, and a gentleman.
And, of course, he’d have to be genius….For he will have to feed a family on a Law Enforcement Officer’s salary.