Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack salutes the raising of the American flag during Wednesday morning’s law enforcement memorial service at the Winona County Law Enforcement Center.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Beneath the hot Wednesday sun, dozens of people stood solemnly in front of the Winona County Law Enforcement Center with their right hands flush to their foreheads. A pair of officers walked in tandem toward the entrance of the building before pivoting, and began raise the American flag to half-mast, their hands slowly rotating as the colors maneuvered toward the sky.
On Wednesday, May 15, a law enforcement memorial service was held to honor state and local law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty. The service, held every year in front of the center’s memorial garden, serves to memorialize three Winona officers who were killed in action: officer Mathew Hamilton, investigator John Schneider, and state trooper Ted Foss.
“Today, we are gathered to honor the officers, deputies, and troopers who have given their lives protecting and serving our immediate communities here at home,” said officer John Compton of the Rochester Police Department. “In doing so, we recognize the profound cost of the peace, safety and security that we all too easily take for granted.”
Officers wore “mourning bands” on their badges, a black strip obscuring the gleaming gold on their lapels, which are worn to honor the death of an officer. Compton, who gave special remembrances at the ceremony, talked about the bands as a representation of the loss of a friend, a comrade, a family member and a voice on the radio.
“The mourning band represents an immeasurable and irreplaceable loss to a department, a family, and a community,” Compton said.
The three honored officers come from eras decades apart, but the impact of their loss is still felt on the Winona law enforcement community today. After attending to an unruly patron at the railroad station, Hamilton was killed in a struggle on December 3, 1874 –– the first officer fatality in Winona County’s history.
On September 7, 1980, Schneider was called out to a domestic disturbance in Goodview along with two other deputies. The man inside, John Kirch, had locked himself in with his 15-month-old daughter and threatened to shoot anyone who entered. When Schneider enter the home, Kirch fired a single bullet from a .22-caliber rifle into Schneider’s chest, ending his watch. Kirch remains in prison for the murder.
Foss was performing a routine traffic stop on Interstate 90, stopping a minivan for speeding. As he stood next to the van, a semi-truck crossed the fog line and struck Foss’ squad car, sending it flying into the minivan ahead and killing Foss on the spot. Foss’ death, in turn, spawned the Ted Foss Move Over Law in Minnesota, which requires those traveling on a road with two or more lanes to keep one full lane away from a stopped emergency vehicle.
“These three men span well over a century of Winona County’s history,” Compton said. “I’m sure each would tell you they were doing their job, but to us, they offer the best examples of the courage, dedication and, ultimately, the sacrifice necessary to keep our community safe.”
At the ceremony, Winona Mayor Mark Peterson and Winona County Commissioner Marie Kovecsi proclaimed the day Winona County Law Enforcement Memorial Day.
“This day also serves as a reminder of the dangers faced currently by serving law enforcement officers in their day-to-day activities,” Peterson said.
The solemn service ended with the ceremonial performance of taps by Winona resident Dennis Decker, followed by a performance of “Amazing Grace” by Winona resident Mariah Huffman, as the crowd stayed silent, looking up at the flags flapping softly in the breeze.