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Saluting Those Who made the Ultimate Sacrifice

May 4, 2011

View photos from this year's Memorial Service


Memorial Service Photo Gallery

Words from Chief Jane Castor

I look out at the large crowd gathered here today I see so many heroes dedicated to serving our community by putting their lives on the line every day to make our city safer. Many struggle to understand why someone would knowingly choose a profession that is as inherently dangerous as law enforcement- a profession that may require you to sacrifice your life for the protection of others. Those of us in uniform could not imagine doing anything else and our community is grateful that there are those among us who choose to be the guardians.

But today is for a different kind of hero. Today is dedicated to those who gave everything to our community, including their lives. We have lost 31 officers in the line of duty throughout history of the Tampa Police Department. Their names are etched in granite as a perpetual reminder of their service and sacrifice. But behind each of those etchings is a person ... someone whose warm touch we could feel, whose smile would light up a room, and whose voice we can still hear. They gave us a life that was full of love, laughter, friendship and guidance. Each name represents a distinct and unique individual, whose most striking similarity was that they were taken from us too soon.

Each year this service is filled with a myriad of emotions. This ceremony is especially poignant for our department as Officer Dave Curtis and Officer Jeff Kocab were so senselessly and tragically taken from us on June 29, 2010. Both were fine officers, outstanding individuals and dedicated family men. A few months later we lost our friend Deputy Mark Longway who died in the line of duty with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Mark became a part of our family through his assignment at the Port of Tampa. The St. Pete Police Department is in attendance, as they are every year, to honor our heroes. This year was especially devastating for them. Not having lost an officer in almost 30 years, they lost three in the span of 30 days. Today we honor them as well.

In law enforcement there is nothing more devastating than the loss of a fellow officer. As everyone in uniform is aware, we are in the business of fixing things. That mission is at the core of our existence. We deal in facts, issues of right and wrong, black and white. You will rarely find an officer in the grey. We are unable to rationalize or find meaning in the sudden and senseless loss of an officer. And we are helpless to change the circumstances that have forever altered so many lives.

I have been asked how we in law enforcement can stand so strong in what is our darkest and most painful hour. In short, it is our job to remain strong, to be the voice of reason, when all around us is in chaos. But make no mistake, we feel the gut wrenching sadness, the overwhelming sense of loss, the palpable anger that one feels at the loss of a family member. Control is lost and tears flow when we are out of view of those we have vowed to protect.

Everyone has a unique and personal reason for being here today, but we all share in the desire to honor the lives of those who formed the thin blue line that divides good from evil. We all understand that an attack on law enforcement represents a tear in the very fabric of our community, and to stand alongside law enforcement sends a loud, clear and unified message to the small dangerous element of our society. Law enforcement in the Tampa Bay area appreciates the unyielding support of each of you here today and the thousands of others who stand by our side in good times and bad.

As I look into the crowd I also see the family members of those who have fallen. It is truly for you that we gather here today.

To surround you in a circle of support and honor, promising to be at your side forever more. We have never pretended to know the depth or breath of your loss. From the moment you received the news, your lives have been irreparable changed. The circumstances differ, but each of you has suffered unimaginable pain. My heart goes out to all of you, but it is for the children that my heart breaks. The fundamental unfairness of having your Mom or Dad taken from you is crushing.

I still have etched in my memory the tour of the gym I took the Curtis' boys on shortly after Daveís death. I showed them where their Dad worked out and answered a bunch of questions. It didnít take much to assure them that their Dad was indeed the strongest man in the gym. It was all I could do to contain my tears.

The first time I met Sara Kocab was in the early morning of June 29, 2010. At that moment I mourned for her and her unborn daughter, as the child would never know her Dad. It was unknown at the time that the tragedy would grow even deeper. Today we can take some comfort in knowing that Lilly Nicole is now in heaven with her father Jeff.

And the sight of little Adam Roberts walking aside the riderless horse at the State's Memorial Service, dressed in a replica of his Dad's uniform continues to be so very moving. Seeing him this year, the uniform shirt a few inches too short for his growing arms, was a gentle reminder that life goes on.

And while we tend to encompass our pain and sorrow in the most recent of losses, I assure you that the pain does not ebb and the memories do not fade with time. Marshall Joseph S. Walker served the City of Port Tampa as the Town Marshall for 16 years. He was shot and killed on November 25, 1915 when he encountered an individual who was involved in a domestic disturbance. Ninety-five years later, his grandson James C. Walker and his wife Helen are in attendance today to honor his memory. On August 29, 1935, 30 year old Officer Bryan A. Reese was shot and killed in the line of duty. Today his son Bryan Reese Jr and grandson Bryan Reese III, are also in attendance at this memorial service. Neither ever had the opportunity to meet their namesake, as his son was born shortly after his death. However, they have both traveled a great distance to honor his sacrifice. We welcome you and all of the other family members here today.

As long as we draw breath we will remember and honor those who sacrificed their life in protection of our community. But long after we are gone, they will live on as their names are forever etched in our monument.

We all question why bad things happen to good people. And we have all asked God to change the circumstances and bring our loved ones back. We understand that there are no answers for our questions or granting of our wishes. We must simply accept that we cannot change that which has already passed. We can however, promise to carry on the legacy of those who go before us. It may be through a memorial service such as this, through our daily actions, or it can be as simple as a story or thought that never fails to bring a smile.

Today, we feel sadness over the loss of such fine men and women. But we should leave from here filled with pride for the service and sacrifice of those who have fallen, joy for the time that we had with them, knowledge that their service made a difference and a hope that their names will be the last to be etched in granite.

May God bless and keep you all safe.