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Ceremony honors officers who gave all

May. 16, 2013 @ 11:30 AM

HUNTINGTON -- City and state dignitaries paid special honor Wednesday to Huntington's first officer to die in the line of duty, the late Town Marshal Isaac Henry Mitchell.

Mitchell died at age 28 on June 27, 1876, as he chased a horse thief from the city into Putnam County. Until recently, many details of his service were buried in history and his descendants were unknown to the city and to each other.

That all changed Wednesday as a few of Mitchell's descendants attended a ceremony commemorating National Peace Officer's Memorial Day. The annual event honors those who have died representing the Huntington Police Department and its surrounding law enforcement agencies.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams honored Mitchell saying the city's law enforcement has experienced many achievements in the 137 years to follow, all while being brought to its knees in horror on six additional occasions when those who protected the city gave the ultimate sacrifice.

"Your ancestor is one of the founding families of our city," he said. "These officers, who are here today, stand on his shoulders. He is the foundation on which they all stand to this day."

Bill Mitchell, the honoree's great-great-nephew, was among about 10 descendants who received roses Wednesday in Isaac Mitchell's memory.

The flowers were distributed as a speaker read the names of Huntington's fallen officers. It is a list that also includes Patrolman Oscar Christian of 1914, Patrolman Charles Ball of 1923, Lt. Charles Bricker of 1940 and Patrolman Clemmie Curtis of 1976, along with Patrolmen Paul Harmon and James Mills, who died a day apart in December 1981.

"If you really stop and just think what that means, each one of them was a young man who won't be coming back like they said," Bill Mitchell explained. "They gave their life protecting the citizens of this community at whatever time period."

Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook acknowledged the entire group, saying that Wednesday was a day to honor the city's fallen police officers while every other day is one to remember their sacrifice. Afterward, he said seeing the families attend each year tugs at his heart, and this year was all the more special as it marked the first time Mitchell's descendants were among that crowd.

"It was more heartwarming this year than solemn for me personally," he said. "We were able to honor our first officer that sacrificed his life, and at the same time find some family and reunite them. It was just a remarkable time."

Williams presented Mitchell's family with glass bricks to mark their visit. Holbrook also honored their loved one by naming the city's first boat the Isaac H. Mitchell. The chief said it marked a new era for the department, enhancing its ability to respond to and investigate matters that occur in or on the banks of the Ohio River.

Bill Mitchell responded with a simple reaction.

"What a cool thing," he said. "To name the boat after one that's been gone for so long now guarantees his memory won't be forgotten. I think that's just tremendous."

Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant presented the Huntington Police Department with a certificate of commendation in not only Mitchell's honor, but also others who give the final sacrifice.

"The story of what happened to the first town marshal in Huntington so many years ago, tragically still happens today," she said. "As we read the names of the police officers who have been killed in the line of duty, we realize that it happens far too often on both sides of the Ohio River and across the state of West Virginia."

Huntington's ceremony also honored the lives of West Virginia State Police Corporal Marshall Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman, along with Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. All recently died in the line of duty.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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