Cars whizzed by on Wells Street, a prayer was said, and “Amazing Grace” was played with just nine notes. Not many heard, but it was a solemn moment for the few gathered Friday at the Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial of Allen County, heads bowed in remembrance of those who have ended their watch.
“For me, it’s a sense of responsibility to come out here and put on a display to honor those who have gone before us,” Sgt. Jonathan Cutler of the Fort Wayne Police Department said.
Cutler, the pipe major for the FWPD Pipe and Drum Brigade for the past eight years, performed with his bagpipes for a small crowd at the memorial Friday, recognizing National Peace Officer Memorial Day. No one from the public was there to hear, but it cut through the sounds of traffic as the rain held off for a few crucial minutes.
“It is an extremely emotional instrument,” Cutler said of his bagpipes. “It’s not often that we play and we don’t draw a few tears from the crowd.”
Friday’s tribute was a small recompense for both fallen law enforcement officers, as well as the fact that social distancing effectively postponed an annual event at the Fort Wayne memorial that typically draws as many as 200 people this time of year.
Jerry Vandeveer who, along with his late wife Linda, helped build the memorial, makes it a point to honor Fort Wayne law enforcement each summer. Though he was never a police officer himself, Vandeveer worked with local law enforcement to rid his downtown neighborhood of drugs and violence. In 2017, the Allen County Board of Commissioners created the Linda and Jerry Vandeveer Impact Award, which honors longtime community advocates who display volunteerism and community service work.
On May 13, Vandeveer planted 200 American flags in the grass surrounding the Law Enforcement/Firefighters Memorial at the corner of Wells and North Wells streets, welcoming the public to practice social distancing while taking a flag home in honor of law enforcement officers.
Friday’s tribute will not take the place of the annual Police Officer Memorial Ceremony, which will be rescheduled for later this summer.
Cutler said residents can honor officers this time each year by flying flags at half-mast.
“If you see a police officer, thank them for their service. A lot of people don’t realize how much that actually means to us,” he said.