Uniforms of all kinds were recognizable as friends, family and fans of the Tullahoma Police Department (TPD) gathered on the front lawn of the South Jackson Civic Center Monday afternoon to honor the lives of local law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty.
At noon, Chief of Police Paul Blackwell opened the memorial service by thanking those in attendance for their love and support, including various city and county officials and representatives from the Tullahoma Fire Department, Manchester Police Department, the Coffee County
Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Held each year in commemoration of National Police Week, which is celebrated annually the week of May 15, the ceremony sought to highlight the ultimate sacrifice made by five former members of the Tullahoma Police Department, including a former chief of police.
Tullahoma has lost only five officers in the line of duty since 1934, with the last on-duty accident happening in 1970.
The first and second losses in the line of duty ever recorded occurred Dec. 3, 1934, during a domestic disturbance call, according to Blackwell.
Former Chief of Police E.C. Armstrong was responding to a call about a domestic dispute and was shot and killed immediately upon his arrival.
Shortly thereafter, Officer Charles Holt, a part-time police officer who was also the public works director for the city, came on the scene and was also shot and killed after engaging the assailant in a gun fight.
They were both only 30 years old at the time.
The next recorded on-duty loss happened Sep. 5, 1936.
Officer James Flippo was shot and killed with his own weapon while transporting a prisoner.
“The prison turned on him, attacked him, took his gun from him and shot and killed him,” said Blackwell.
Flippo was 65 years old.
The final two officers lost in the line of duty were Officers Henry Travis and Clifford Riddle, who suffered a head-on collision on Highway 55 after transporting a prisoner to the Manchester jail on Sep 26, 1970.
Travis was killed instantly, but Riddle fell into a coma for the next 17 years before succumbing to his injuries on Oct 10, 1987.
“Those are the five officers (who) have given the ultimate sacrifice for this community,” he said.
“We can’t forget them, and we know that they’ll always be in our memory as long as we hold this celebration every year.
“We’ll continue to tell you their names (and) we’ll continue to show you their pictures,” said Blackwell.
During the ceremony, Blackwell lauded the fact that he and the department have not had to change the program very much over the years.
“If we had to make a change, that would mean there’s probably another name that we would have to add to the wall in Washington, D.C., another picture we’d have to put on the easels behind us, another name that you would find in your program,” he said.
“This is one of those times where I’m glad to say no change is good change.”
The nature of law enforcement means that oftentimes officers leave their homes each day not knowing if they’ll come home at the end of their shifts.
Yet they take on the burden willingly, choosing to serve and protect their communities despite the risk.
“Many times we know when we go out (that) we don’t know what our day holds,” Blackwell said.
“What we call a good day is when everybody goes home safe; but we call it an excellent day when we go home safe and we’ve impacted somebody’s life in a positive way doing our tour of duty,” said Blackwell.
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.