Opinion

By Reggie Connell / Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

For generations, the officers of the Apopka Police Department have answered the call to serve and protect this community. They endure long shifts in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, and they embody courage and honor.

And nothing exemplifies that more than an incident that took place in Apopka over 70 years ago.

In March of 1941, Fred Risener, the Chief of the Apopka Police Department, and a rookie officer walked into a gunfight with two robbers that left the rookie shot and killed. Eight months later, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor, and America’s attention turned to World War II, and this incident was largely forgotten for decades.

That rookie’s name was Denson Hudson.

“Officer Hudson’s death occurred more than 76 years ago,” said Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer in his keynote address at the memorial ceremony for Hudson. “The details are fuzzy. Memories may be hazy. Most of us did not know Denson Hudson, nor members of his family. But the reason we are here today is clear: We Honor public service in all its forms. Let us never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by Officer Denson Hudson, who was on duty that night seeking to protect the lives and property of Apopka residents. Seventy-six years ago, he was doing exactly what we ask of our police officers today.”

The APD honored Hudson with a plaque that they will install at the APD building. Current Police Chief Michael McKinley explained its importance during his speech at the ceremony.

“Today, we place this memorial here to honor Officer Hudson for making the ultimate sacrifice to this community and to be a constant reminder of the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make every day,” he said. “The brave officers we gather to remember on this day in May devoted themselves fully to others — to serve and to protect others — and in the process, they were willing to give their lives. Officer Hudson is remembered today and forever, as one of those officers. I pray that we never have to add another name to the wall or plaque to this building.”

In his remarks during the ceremony, APD Captain Randall Fernandez hoped the plaque would remind officers of the legacy they are a part of.

“Officers, new and old, passing through these doors, will remember the sacrifice of Officer Hudson and this plaque will serve as a reminder to not forget our past, and to have honor in our future.”

In moments of danger and desperation, the first people we turn to are law enforcement officers. They are called first responders, but oftentimes they are the responders of last resort.

When all else fails, we call 9-1-1.

Minutes after the call, these brave officers show up despite the obvious potential for danger and solve critical issues sometimes involving life and death.

They save lives, they stand in the gaps of peril, and they run into danger and violence. Let me write that again… they save lives, they stand in the gaps of peril, and they run INTO danger and violence.

Since 1962, America remembers the sacrifice that fallen officers like Hudson have made on May 15th – Peace Officers Memorial Day.

“The men and women in Law Enforcement continue to work hard every day to safeguard the communities they have sworn to protect,” said McKinley. “Often they are unappreciated for the hard work and long hours they put in to ensure we are safe. This day is set aside to remember all the law enforcement officers who gave their lives protecting their communities. The national memorial is now more than 300 feet long, and there are more than 20,000 officers’ names on the wall. This year, the names of 394 officers killed in the line of duty are being added to the wall. Of these 394 names, 143 were officers killed during 2016, and an additional 251 officers who died in previous years but whose stories of sacrifice had been lost to history until now will be added to the wall.”

Kilsheimer prays that no other APD officer will be called upon to make that sacrifice.

“The men and women of the Apopka Police Department have sworn an oath to protect the public, especially those who cannot protect themselves. The men and women of the Apopka Police Department have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the Laws of the State of Florida and the charter and ordinances of the City of Apopka. This is a solemn oath that no one can take lightly. And we cannot escape the fact – that given the very nature of their jobs – the men and women of the Apopka Police Department may encounter a situation in which the ultimate sacrifice will be made. It is a horrific thought. Every time, a police officer falls in some city across the country, I have the realization: What if that was Apopka? What would I do? What would I say? God forbid that should ever happen. And I pray for God’s Hand of Protection over our police officers. But that is also why we must say: Let us never forget.”

It is also important to remember that these police officers are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and that they risk their lives and sacrifice precious time with loved ones so we can live in peace and security.  But more than that, they are often leaders in their communities, serving as mentors, coaches, friends, and neighbors – working each day tirelessly to ensure that the people they serve have the opportunities that should be afforded to all.   It takes a special kind of courage to be a law enforcement officer. Though they too often spend their days witnessing humanity at its worst, it is in their extraordinary examples that we see humanity at its best.

On this day of remembrance, Fernandez also honored two fallen officers from the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Two different agencies, but still one brotherhood.

“We often don’t understand the reasons behind the circumstances we are in, but we should resolve they are part of a larger plan. You must understand the highest highs and the lowest lows in your life are yours and how you react to them builds your character and your faith. The memories of Orlando Lieutenant Debra Clayton and (Orange County) Deputy Sheriff Norman Lewis remind us of the challenges and dangers we face every day. We in this brotherhood of blue, often say we will never forget, we must bring honor to those words and make them words of action. Today we recognize Denson Hudson, a man almost none of us in this crowd knew. He gave his life for this community in 1941, well before I was born. But as I am here with you, and we can say, and we can show, the Apopka Police Department, will indeed, always remember.”

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