I had the privilege this week to dedicate a statue at the Fallen Comrades Memorial at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This memorial pays homage to Service employees who have died in the line of duty.
The Fallen Comrades Wall was dedicated on May 15, 2000, to honor and remember our colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice.
This statue, created by artist Eli Hopkins, completes the Fallen Comrades Memorial. USFWS photo
For inclusion on the wall, employees must have perished carrying out duties directly related to their jobs. A special Fallen Comrades subcommittee reviews nominees after a one-year waiting period. Those who meet the memorial criteria have their names added to the wall.
Sadly, 81 names are etched on the wall.
The oldest name dates back to 1917. The most recent name is from January 17, 2010. Our Fallen Comrades include law enforcement agents killed by poachers, brave biologists who perished in plane crashes, and Richard Guadagno, a Refuge Manager who perished on Flight 93 in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
At the time of the original dedication of the wall, an important piece of the Memorial was missing: a statue that represented the spirit of the Service ... a work of art that would convey the natural legacy that we protect. The statue also had to honor the people of the Service – the most devoted group of conservation professionals in the world.
The Service's Heritage Committee undertook the challenge of finding an artist with a vision that conveyed the spirit of this Memorial. A national competition was held, and Eli Hopkins was selected to create the statue.
He did a wonderful job, combining a human element with the myriad plants and wildlife that represent the complexity and importance of our conservation mission. His extraordinary work includes many species of plants and wildlife: ivory billed woodpecker, paddle fish, Goose Creek milk vetch, Karner blue butterfly, Florida panther and tundra swan. They are watched over by a lone person in Service uniform, binoculars in hand and looking to the horizon.
With the statue we honor our former colleagues, who gave the best years of their lives to ensure that current and future generations could continue to enjoy our precious fish and wildlife legacy.
We dedicated the statue to their memory and to our ongoing work of preserving and enhancing these resources.
And I promise: We will not let the sacrifice of our Fallen Comrades be in vain.