Honoring Maine’s Fallen Law Enforcement Heroes

Every day, brave members of Maine’s law enforcement community defend our right to peace and safety in our homes, in our streets, in our woods and waters. They deserve our recognition and our respect.

This week, we also remember the officers who ended their watch protecting and serving every part of our great state as the nation celebrates Peace Officer Memorial Day and National Police Week.

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.

The eighty-eight individuals whose names are on the memorial in Augusta who gave their lives in service to our state were law enforcement officers ranging from sheriffs and sheriff’s deputies, chiefs of police and patrolmen, park rangers, game wardens, troopers and detectives.

Many of them had already served this country in various wars and branches of the military.

They served Androscoggin County and Auburn, Bath and Bingham, Cumberland and Calais, Millinocket and Mattawamkeag, Paris and Penobscot, Lebanon and Lincoln, Westbrook and Washington, and almost every town and territory in between.

Some were young, like Officer Nathan Desjardins of Fryeburg, who died at the age of twenty in 2017, when his boat crashed on its way to rescue canoeists on the Saco River.

Others were older, like Officer Howard Eye of Calais, who died at the age of 78 in 1951 after a fatal heart attack fr0m breaking up a fight at a local carnival, eleven years after he retired formally from the force.

Some were veterans on the force, like Game Warden Daryl Gordon, who was 60 in 2011 when his plane crashed into Clear Lake in Piscataquis County. He had been with the Warden Service for 25 years.

Some were rookies, like Trooper Frank C. Wing, who was 26 in 1928 when his motorcycle struck a truck while he was on patrol in Millinocket. He had been with the Maine State Police for only two months.

Young and old, veteran and rookie, these men sacrificed their own lives to protect life and property in the State of Maine.

Some of them lost their lives keeping the peace, like Officer Rufus Lishness, age 43, who was shot and killed in Augusta in 1884 trying to arrest a suspect for disturbing the peace. He left his wife and four children.

Some lost their lives defending property, like Officer Charles E. Black, age 28, father of two with another on the way, who was shot and killed—shot five times by robbers in South Berwick in 1964.

Some lost their lives saving others, like Baxter Park Ranger Ralph W. Heath, age 37, who fell from a ledge on his beloved Mt. Katahdin during his second attempt to rescue a lost woman in a snow storm.

Many of these men were taken from us in car accidents and just cruel acts of fate, like Deputy Luke Gross, age 44, and Maine State Police Detective Ben Campbell, age 32, each of whom died in recent years while investigating traffic accidents. 

Who they were, which communities they served, where and how they lost their lives was different, but these members of law enforcement shared the same guiding principal. A principal that governed how they upheld the law, a promise to practice integrity, fairness, compassion, and excellence in the thousand daily acts of heroism they performed on behalf of Maine people.

Well, as District Attorney, as a private attorney for years, as Attorney General, and now as Governor, I see the risks that each one of our law enforcement members take when they assume their duty every day. I see the sacrifice of their loved ones waiting to know if they will come home safe. I see the spirit of our fallen officers embodied in their commitment to serve their community and to keep this state the safest place to work, live, and raise a family.

Let that be their legacy. These souls whose lives were abbreviated by fate, or lost to duty, lost to circumstance, or to misfortune, or to malice, their service dedicated to the rule of law. May we honor the compact they observed – a shared commitment, born of sacrifice and solemnity, to be the best citizens we can be, the most protective, the most unselfish, the most civil in our common humanity and the most caring of our human community.

God bless those departed officers. And if you see a law enforcement officer this weekend, please thank him or her, and tell them to carry on. They have our support.

This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.