Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy issued Proclamation 3537 creating Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week. The purpose of this proclamation was to bring honor and recognition to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and express gratitude for the service and courageous deeds of all law enforcement officers.
His proclamation began with the following words:
“Whereas, from the beginning of this Nation, law enforcement officers have played an important role in safeguarding the rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by the Constitution and in protecting the lives and property of our citizens …”
He concludes the proclamation with the words:
“Now, Therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate May 15, 1963, and May 15 of each succeeding year, as Peace Officers Memorial Day, in honor of those peace officers who, through their courageous deeds, have lost their lives or have become disabled in the performance of duty.
“I also designate the week of May 12 through May 18, 1963, and the calendar week during which May 15 occurs of each succeeding year, as Police Week, in recognition of the service given by the men and women who, night and day, protect us through enforcement of our laws.”
It is sad to reflect on the fact that President Kennedy himself would fall victim to a criminal act just six months after issuing his proclamation. He was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
Since this week is Police Week, Love of Learning will honor and remember our local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
The first of these is Jimmy Appelgate (correct spelling – different than the street) who served as a member of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse. He was killed in a shootout while trying to assist a Corvallis police officer on foot to apprehend a suspect on the run.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1955, “two men were arrested on charges of car theft. The suspects were kept in the jail in Grants Pass and were returned to the Lane County jail in Eugene by a deputy sheriff.”
At the Eugene jail, one suspect pulled a gun he had kept hidden in his belt and forced the deputy to give up his car keys. The two suspects took off in the sheriff’s patrol car headed northbound on Oregon 99W to Junction City before turning toward Monroe. About four miles north of Junction City, they pulled over a civilian car carrying a family of five. The suspects locked the family in the patrol car in the prisoner’s cage, stole their car and drove toward Corvallis.
The civilian driver managed to get out of the patrol car and call the Corvallis police. City Police Officer B.C. Branson stationed himself beside the highway in south Corvallis and soon spotted the car coming into town at about 80 mph. Officer Branson caught up with the men when their car failed to make a turn from Jefferson Street onto First Street and the car went up over the railroad tracks and crashed into a tree. The suspects jumped from the car but the officer was able to detain one of them.
The other suspect took off down the street and was spotted running by Appelgate, who was returning home from drills with the Sheriff’s Posse with his 16- year-old daughter and her friend. Appelgate flagged down a police officer and told him he had seen the suspect running down the street. The officer got in Appelgate’s truck with the girls and they raced to the alley behind Ben’s Associated Service Station at Third and Van Buren streets. The officer got out of the truck and went around to the front of the gas station to ask the attendants if they had seen the suspect.
When the officer returned to the truck he found the suspect with a gun pointed at Appelgate and the girls. The suspect said he wanted the pickup to make his getaway. Appelgate, fearing for the safety of the girls, got into a scuffle with the suspect. Three shots were fired and the other officer ran around the car and was also shot at twice by the suspect, who then dropped his .45 Colt automatic and took off running.
Appelgate died the next day from his injuries. He was survived by his wife, Frances Appelgate, and three young children. He was 39 years old.
Appelgate’s niece, Teri Applegate Harold, left a remembrance in 2021 that said “… I don’t think we totally understand how our law enforcement officers are put in harm’s way continually and are instantly forced to make decisions for the greater good. Way too often it is a sacrificial act of courage that ultimately takes their life. We owe them such a debt of gratitude, and especially during this climate of violence and disrespect for these brave men and women. Thank you so much for your service.”
On Saturday, May 20 at Mount Union Cemetery at 10 a.m., our community will conduct a ceremony to reflect and remember two fallen police officers who have served our county.
The Benton County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse will be present with their beautiful horses to honor and remember the courageous actions of Posse member Appelgate. They will present a wreath with his name on it and lead a riderless horse with boots placed backwards in the stirrups to symbolically honor and remember him.
The other officer that will be remembered will be Deputy Sheriff James W. Dunn II, who was shot and killed while he and several other deputies attempted to arrest a drunk teenager who was causing a disturbance at a local saloon.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page website, back on Sunday, April 24, 1904 in downtown Corvallis, a gang of teenage boys went on a drinking spree. One pulled a revolver on Deputy Dunn and shot him in the stomach while resisting arrest. He later died because of the gunshot wound.
Dunn had previously served as chief of police for Corvallis and had been sworn in as a deputy several years after retiring. Like Appelgate, Dunn left behind a wife and three children.
Deputy Dunn’s picture hangs to this day in the Hall of Honor at the Corvallis Police Department.
Love of Learning reached out to Bill Alexander who serves as the executive director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. He confirmed that the names of both Appelgate and Dunn appear among the 23,785 engraved on the National Memorial Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C.
Love of Learning made a contribution on behalf of both of these fallen officers this month. Interestingly enough, the donation will be double matched by actor Clint Eastwood who serves as the honorary board member for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Clint Eastwood said as he announced the match, “Thousands of real-life, sworn law enforcement officers never make it home. They make the ultimate sacrifice. We owe those who have fallen, and all of our nation’s law enforcement officers, a huge debt of gratitude.”
I encourage everyone to express your gratitude to the law enforcement officers of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon State Police, the Corvallis Police Department and the Philomath Police Department this week during Police Week. We live in a safe community because of these unsung heroes who dedicate their careers to serve the public at great risk to both themselves and their families.
Take a moment to thank them for their service — just like JFK told us to do 60 years ago and Clint Eastwood reminds us to do today.
(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).