NEW BRITAIN - Patrolman James Skelly died trying to stop a burglary at the Davidson and Levanthal store on Main Street in 1942. Sgt. William Graybeck was killed responding to a robbery at the A.Y.O. Packing Co. on Washington Street in 1951.
They are heroes whose service to the city will never be forgotten, said New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell Tuesday morning.
“Both of these New Britain police officers acted bravely. Both of them are heroes.”
Under sunny skies and before a crowd of dignitaries, police and family members, Wardwell honored Skelly and Graybeck along with those who had retired from the department but died in the past year, Tuesday morning.
The event was part of National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Week. President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day in 1962.
Each year, the New Britain Police Department marks the week and the day with a ceremony that includes the laying of a wreath at the monument for Skelly and Graybeck.
It’s an annual tradition that Wardwell takes seriously. He pointed out that a police officer is killed in the line of duty in the United States every 58 hours. Assaults on police officers increased by more than 7,000 to 58,627 from 2015 to 2016, he said.
From Jan. 1 to May 12 this year, 53 officers have died, Wardwell said.
“These statistics must shake us out of our complacency,” he said. Every day, officers show up for their shifts, ready to help, to act as guardians, to run into dangerous situations that would cause others to flee, he said.
“Every one of our current New Britain police officers is a real life hero. Every New Britain police officer risks their own safety so others can be safe.”
During the ceremony in the outdoor pocket park on Main Street next to the police station, Mayor Erin Stewart read a proclamation recognizing city officers.
Wardwell and Capt. William Steck also honored Louis Harkins, William Kilduff, Francis Peifer, Donald Peters, David Shaffer and Robert Smith, former city police officers who have died in the past year.
Joseph Gregorzek, who served as a police commissioner, and Lucille Rose, who served as the secretary to the police chief, also were honored.
Donald Peters was one of three brothers to become police officers. He and George served in New Britain, while Robert served in Berlin.
Donald Peters died in April, but Robert, now chairman of the Berlin Police Commission, his son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Susan, were on hand Tuesday morning.
“It was beautiful,” said Robert Peters. “This is the first one I have attended. Even though one of the deaths was from 1924, it’s nice that they never forget.”
Margaret Olender, executive assistant to New Britain Chief State’s Attorney Brian Preleski, came with her mother, two sisters and her daughter to see her father, Francis Peifer, be recognized.
He started his career at the original police station on Commercial Street and then moved with the rest of the department to 125 Columbus Blvd. in the late 1960s. He had retired by the time the new police station at the corner of Main and Chestnut Streets had opened 2012.
Her father died a few months ago, but the family was happy to be at the ceremony, she said.
“It was a beautiful service,” Olender said. “It was nice to see all the police officers here. We were honored to be here.”