WATERVILLE — Quiet and stoic, three members of the Maine State Police marched toward the gravestone of Emery Gooch, a state police trooper who died while on duty. One placed a wreath next to it before all three saluted.
This respectful moment was repeated 10 times throughout the state on a bitter cold Tuesday afternoon, including once more in Waterville, as the state police remembered and honored their members who died while on duty.
“It’s something that’s good to do, and you honestly wonder why you haven’t done it before,” Lt. Scott Ireland said. “This is something we’re doing out of respect for the officers.”
Ireland, who started to organize the event last month, said there was no significance to the Dec. 17 date; the department just wanted to have it done before the holidays.
“It’s a special time of year, and we wanted to show that they’re not forgotten,” Ireland said.
Ireland, joined by Maj. Gary Wright, Sgt. Mike Zabarsky and Detective David Pelletier placed wreaths decorated with a blue ribbon and winter police badge at the graves of Gooch and Trooper Jeffrey Parola.
“Any officer who drove by and saw that badge would instantly recognize it as a fallen officer,” Wright said.
The sun was out and the air was blistering cold Tuesday when the officers walked through the snow to Pine Grove Cemetery to decorater Gooch’s grave before heading to St. Francis Cemetery to do the same at Parola’s grave.
Gooch was a 29-year-old patrolman in 1924 when he died in a motorcycle accident in Mattawamkeag. A Navy veteran of World War I, Gooch had been a member of the Maine State Police for one month before the accident.
Parola was a trooper when he died in a 1994 car accident while responding to a report of a domestic dispute. Parola, 27, had been with the department for five years when the accident occurred.
A wreath already was at Parola’s grave when the officers placed a second alongside it. Parola had moved into a home in Winslow with his wife, Shelley, shortly before the accident.
“He was just getting ready to settle down and start a family here in the area,” said Wright, who knew Parola during his time with the state police.
Parola’s family started a foundation in his name that helped provide the Maine State Police Tactical Team and Bomb team with safety equipment, as well as scholarships for students who were looking to attend the Maine Criminal Justice Academy before it dissolved in May.
Eleven state police officers have died while on duty in the last 90 years, including four in central Maine.
In addition to Gooch and Parola, Thomas J. Merry was a state trooper when a car struck and killed him in July 1980 during a chase in Palmyra. Merry, 28, was setting up a roadblock during the chase and was trying to seek cover when the suspect’s vehicle hit him. Merry was with the state police for three years. His grave is in Brown Cemetery in Benton.
Michael R. Veilleux was 24 when he died in a car accident while on patrol in Dayton in June 1986. He had been a trooper for the state police for one month. Veilleux is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Manchester.
Ireland expects the event to occur annually around this time of year, adding that adding decorations to officers’ graves is the least the department can do.