A well-deserved hero’s tribute
t came many years later, but a well-deserved honor found its way to a fallen Hayfield police chief and his widow within the past few weeks.
Doug Claassen was given a hero’s tribute 18 years after battling to keep the residents of this county safe. He had been injured by a violent suspect in 1977, but lived for another 22 years with a life altering, career ending spinal injury. That injury eventually took his life in 1999. It wasn’t until last month when local and state officials honored Claassen for giving his life in the line of duty.
Some may wonder why bother with such a recognition 40 years after the incident. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose addressed that concern in his speech during the tribute at the courthouse.
Nearly 1,500 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years. That’s an average of nearly one death every 60 hours. Last year along 142 law enforcement heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice.
But it doesn’t stop there. There are nearly 60,000 assaults against police officers every year. Of those, 15,000 end in serious injuries. Some officers like Claassen may live with debilitating for years and even decades.
Rose pointed out law enforcement officers and their families are part of a unique culture. There is no other profession in society that serves quite the same role or faces quite the same risks as a matter of course in daily work life.
The culture, Rose says, also creates a unique set of challenges for the families of these men and women. Officers work nights, weekends and holidays. They miss family dates, including birthdays, anniversaries, school events, band and choir concerts and sporting events. They are on heightened alert daily and need to be on guard and watch their backs both at work and off-duty with their families.
Cops work under the public microscope every day and know that the actions they take in a split second will be arm-chair quarterbacked by many, including lawyers, the community, and yes, even the media. They understand they will held to a higher standard as well.
Every day or night when these men and women go to work, they hug their families and tell them they love them while knowing that every time they go out the door they may be injured or killed in the line of duty. While the stress wears on the officer, it can equally wear on their families.
In the Claassen case, the family lived and sacrificed for years with crippling effects of the spinal cord injury until he passed away.
It’s important for surviving families to know that their sacrifice never ends. It’s vital for society to always honor all fallen officers for their service to their communities and to recognize their families for their sacrifice. We need to make sure they know the appreciation we have for them and that we will always be there to support them.
Perhaps most importantly we need to let them know their loved one’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.
I would like to commend Sheriff Rose for making sure Claassen received the hero’s tribute he so well deserved. Even though this happened long before Rose became a law enforcement officer, he took it upon himself to not forget the outstanding achievement of someone trying to protect the community.
It’s now on us to go in hot pursuit of never forgetting Claassen’s sacrifice so we can enjoy freedom from the lawless.