State and local law enforcement officers and other members of the Martinsville-Henry County community gathered Wednesday in the Summerlin Meeting Room of the Henry County Administration Building to honor fallen officers who died in the line of duty.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said in his opening remarks at the annual Peace Officers’ Memorial Service. “As our country for the last couple years has become very divided, the police officers stand right in the middle and try to bring peace.”
Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson and Henry County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Joe Bryant each read a proclamation recognizing National Peace Officers Memorial Week, and the officers from each locality who died in the line of duty.
Retired captain Tim Mills, of the Martinsville Sheriff’s Office, was the guest speaker. Mills said he worked with three of the officers being honored.
“It was truly an honor to be able to work with them and to know them,” he said. “Scripture tells us that love is stronger than death, that there can be no greater love than the sacrifice of oneself for others, and the ones that we come here today to remember, to honor, did that truly by sacrificing their lives for each and every one of us.
“The worst thing that can happen to an officer is to lose a fellow officer from your department,” Mills said. “Whenever there is an officer that has fallen in the line of duty from any jurisdiction, we hurt. But it’s a deeper hurt when it’s a friend, when it’s a brother, when it’s a sister, when it’s a partner. We’re a very close family and we care very much for each other.
“These officers, these heroes that we honor today defended us even to the very end. I can’t think of a truer definition of a hero than those who served and sacrificed for a purpose far greater than themselves,” he said, and called on those attending to help ease any divisions.
“As we honor our fallen officers, let us rededicate ourselves to the high ideals that they had. Let us rededicate ourselves to the great devotion that these officers had for our community. Let us recommit ourselves to defending freedom, to guarding peace, and fighting for the justice that we truly deserve,” he said.
Mills ended his remarks with a quote from Gen. George S. Patton, who once said, “‘Let us not mourn that such men died, but rejoice that such men lived.’”
Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. M.C. Davis read the names of Martinsville and Henry County officers who fell in the line of duty, along with the date of their end of watch. As each name was read, a bell tolled and a single, solemn note echoing through an utterly silent room. Davis waited for the last whispers of each toll to fade completely before calling the next name.
Darlene Isom attended the ceremony in which her father, (Willis) Herman Ferguson was among those honored.
Isom said she was 16 when her father was killed in 1975. Her sister was 14, and her brother was just 1-year old. As the eldest child, it became her job to help care for the house and her younger siblings so her mother could work and support the family.
“He was a great dad,” she recalled of Ferguson. The impact of his death in 1975 is felt in the family to this day, as evidenced by the tissue in her hand and the tears in her eyes.
Ferguson “loved his work,” Isom said, adding that he worked at both the Fieldale and the Bassett Police departments before going to work for the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s wonderful to know that he’s not forgotten,” Isom said. “And it’s wonderful for the community to be reminded that this can happen. We hope that no more names get added to that list.”
Those officers recognized at the 2022 Peace Officers’ Memorial Service were:
Henry County Sheriff’s Office
Paul Edward Grub (end of watch July 2, 1989)
George Melvin Brown (end of watch June 26, 1984)
Willis Herman Ferguson (end of watch March 18, 1975)
John Hughes Mitchell (end of watch May 4, 1922)
Bassett Police Department
George S. Frame (end of watch March 18, 1923)
Fieldale Police Department
John J. Johnston (end of watch Jan. 27, 1945)
Martinsville Police Department
Jonathan W. Bowling (end of watch Jan. 26, 2005)
George F. Carter (end of watch June 14, 1919)
Virginia State Police
Charles Eugene Morris (end of watch 1962)
James Michael Phillippi (end of watch Jan. 11, 2014)