OCEAN COUNTY – Ocean County officials and local law enforcement honored and commemorated fallen officers during the 31st annual Ocean County Law Enforcement Memorial Day observance.
The ceremony, held at the Ocean County Police Academy, paid special tribute to the 18 officers killed in the line of duty since 1926.
An on-site memorial features flags hanging over a statue of a policeman holding the hand of a child. It bears an inscription naming the Ocean County Honor Roll dedicated to officers who lost their lives in the call of duty.
In an emotional scene, law enforcement officers accompanied family members as they placed a rose on the statue in honor of their deceased loved ones.
Ocean County District Attorney Bradley D. Billhimer, who delivered the opening remarks, said he viewed the occasion as an opportunity to express his appreciation for the heroism demonstrated daily by the forces of order and also to express his gratitude to their families.
Billhimer reminded those gathered that President John F. Kennedy designated Police Week and Peace Officers’ Memorial Day because he viewed police officers as unique and special individuals, worthy of recognition by a grateful nation.
“As everyone here surely knows, before a policeman starts his shift, he kisses his wife or husband and children goodbye,” Billhimer said. “Never knowing for sure if they’ll have the chance to do it again at the end of their shift.
“The willingness to confront unknown danger is what makes police officers so extraordinary,” Billhimer continued. “They are selfless human beings who embrace a purpose far greater than themselves.”
The ceremony began and ended with pomp and circumstances befitting the memorial service. A squad of motorcycles, along with an honor guard, rode past dignitaries and guests in the special memorial area dedicated to fallen officers.
The Point Pleasant Borough High School Panther Music Concert Band, under the direction of Mr. Scott Visco, provided the musical selections. Seaside Heights Police Officer Nicole Tamburro sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a heartfelt performance for the solemn occasion.
Three representatives of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners attended the memorial service. Deputy Warden Virginia “Ginny” Haines, along with Commissioners Barbara “Bobbi” Jo Crea and Gary Quinn all expressed their appreciation for law enforcement officers. They presented a proclamation recognizing the day as Police Memorial Day and the month of May as Police Memorial Month, accepted by Stafford Township Police Chief Thomas Dellane.
“It is during Police Week that we show our appreciation for our unsung heroes who nobly wear the badge and put their lives on the line to protect us every day,” Quinn said. “We also join the loved ones of 75 new Law Enforcement Special Constables who were recognized at recent Ocean County Police Academy graduation ceremonies.”
“We are all silently praying for the safety of these new officers as they enter our communities as peacekeepers,” Quinn continued. “In addition, today we take time to remember the 18 officers whose names adorn our memorial. All proudly wore the uniform insignia of their respective police services and served their communities with dedication and commitment.
Quinn also thanked and acknowledged Billhimer and Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, calling them true role models who lead the law enforcement community in Ocean County.
The Stafford Township Police Department Gunnery Unit detail added to the memorable service by saluting 21 guns in honor of their fellow officers.
Barnegat Township Police Chief Keith Germain read the list of names honored at the ceremony as follows: New Jersey State Trooper First Class Joseph A. Smith, August 4, 1927; New Jersey State Trooper Leonard P. McCandless, June 28, 1931; John J. Ressler, New Jersey State Trooper, May 1, 1932; Marshal Arnold Johnson, Point Pleasant Police Department. July 22, 1928; Police officer Hartley Richter, Lakewood Police Department, April 8, 1946; New Jersey State Trooper Raymond P. Fiola, Feb. 19, 1962; Chief Angelo J. Leonetti, Long Beach Township Police Department, March 6, 1962; Police Officer Robert T. Tobias, Manchester Township Police Service, May 17, 1975; Police Officer Richard J. Harper, Brick Township Police Department, May 4, 1978; Police Officer Larry A. Dunfee Jr., Stafford Township Police Department, April 27, 1981; Police Officer John J. Lesemann, Brick Township Police Department, August 30, 1999; Police Officer Robert Ventura, Jackson Township Police Department, March 18, 2001; Police Officer William Preslar, Lakewood Police Department, May 14, 2007; Police Officer Jason C. Marles, Ocean Gate Police Department, November 25, 2010; Police Officer Christopher A. Matlosz, Lakewood Police Department, January 14, 2011; Det. Tina E. Rambo, Ocean County District Attorney’s Office, August 1, 2011; Detective 1 John Scott Stevens, Ocean County District Attorney’s Office, January 21, 2015; and Cap. Scott R. Thompson, Manchester Police Service, 10 April 2015.
The current Ocean County Police Academy class also participated in the service, with recruits from the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office and the Point Pleasant Borough Police Department placing the memorial wreath in front of the statue.
“We are overwhelmed with honor and gratitude for these wonderful people who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Ocean County District Attorney’s Office Chaplain Rev. James Occhipinti. “Bless the families who are here today…let them know how important they are to you and honor the memory of their loved one.”