Commentary: Honor is everything

The National Fallen Firefighter Memorial ceremony in 2016, during which Firefighter Gunther and Captain Rose were honored. (Photo by Mark Ingoglio)

This year, as in years past, I will attend the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial in October at the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. The year 2016 was no different from other years — except that firefighter Timothy Gunther of Poughkeepsie and Captain Jack Rose of Mount Marion had died in the line of duty the year before and were being honored. The weather that year mitigated against an outdoor ceremony, and Mount Saint Mary University generously opened its doors to us in the 11th hour.

That was also the year that President Obama attended the event in person and gave a speech about the sacrifices that firefighters make, particularly praised those who made the ultimate sacrifice and attempted to offer some words of comfort to the grieving families and department members in attendance. Representatives of each family or fire department came forward when their loved ones’ names were called, received a folded U.S. flag, a red rose and a commemorative badge. They also had the opportunity to take a picture with the President of the United States. I was within several yards of it all, and watched the procession of proud families — natural and firematic — come up to honor their heroes and be thanked by the president on behalf of a grateful nation.


That year, 2016, SGT Kerry Winters fell in the line of duty and the members of all of the emergency services — police, fire, EMS and dispatchers — were in mourning. I was not available to serve on his detail as I had on so many other occasions before and since, but I mourned with all the rest of the Brotherhood.

The following year, 2017, when I learned that Sheriff VanBlarcum had received the condolences of President Trump at the Law Enforcement Memorial in May, and that some people in our county had taken offense to that, I was outraged! I had always thought of the sheriff as a good public servant, and saw that he was merely putting the duties of his office before the feelings of his party toward one man. Later in 2017, an opportunity opened to train with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office at an Honor Guard Academy, and I jumped at the chance. I counted it a privilege to hone my skills as an honor guard member in a school hosted by members of an organization whose commanding officer took this sacred duty so seriously.

I am grateful for Sheriff VanBlarcum’s service. At the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. last year, he was right where the head of an emergency services organization ought to have been — representing that organization, and not a political party.

There are 7 comments

  1. L & T

    I recently attended a Town Hall meeting that Juan Figueroa attended. Juan took questions from the diverse crowd on policing, opioids, what the Sheriff’s office does and so much more. Juan invited a mother whose son tragically died from an opiod addiction to discuss her experience and how we can work together to combat this issue. It was refreshing seeing someone run for office not just talk at people but also listen to and solicit feedback from residents.

    Juan fits the profile of a Sheriff as a former Marine and State Trooper. He has been a leader his entire life and has dedicated himself to enhancing his community. The prospect of someone who understands how to protect his community while also being able to listen to ALL of them is an exciting prospect.

    We must elect Juan to be our next Sheriff. Voters across the political spectrum would be wise to support Juan on November 6th.

  2. JPM

    L & T:

    Do you have any insight as to why Mr. Figueroa ran as a Republican in his last campaign for a public office, and then switched parties to run as a Democrat for sheriff?

  3. Coolidge

    State troopers are scum, their sole purpose is to collect revenue from and harass the population. I wouldn’t vote for a trooper for dog catcher let alone sheriff.

  4. JP

    L&T, I really think your doing some of those opioids. The current Sheriff is about as soft spoken as can be. He doesn’t talk down to people. The current sheriff is a class act, and I think you would be hard to ever find someone he has ever “talked at.” As far as your comments about Juan Figueroa, Juan has never been in charge of a small group of men, ever, never mind handling the Sheriffs position. He has no experience what so ever handling such a large group of men and women. Next time you see someone who works for the Sheriffs office, just ask who they would vote for. They will answer Van Blarcum. That alone says a lot when the people that work under you will support you. That’s respect!

  5. Vote Equals Justice


    I Live in the Town of Plattekill and so does the Democratic Candidate for Sheriff Juan Figueroa. Mr. Figueroa is a life long Democrat residing in a relatively Republican dominated town. He ran for town justice and supervisor previously as a DEMOCRAT– never as a Republican.

  6. AM

    There is nothing honorable about Van Blarcum’s visit to Washington to see Trump. He used the death of Kerry Winters as a pretext, went out of his way to arrange with Keith Schiller (personal bodyguard of Trump, and former New Paltz police officer) a one-on-one photo op. The Winters family was not treated honorably in these arrangements.

  7. Jp

    Wrong, AM. I actually know the Winters family. They are behind Van Blarcum, and appreciate what he did and back him. Where do you people get your info to make this stuff up?

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