"My heroes are those who risk their lives every day to protect our world and make it a better place -- police, firefighters and members of our armed forces." -- Sidney Shelton
One of the highlights of my childhood was to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. I can still remember missing school for a day to meander with my family through all of the latest farm machinery exhibits and the livestock to see the state's best and brightest.
Our family will never forget the year my brother, Ken, won our local Lebanon County Tractor Driving Contest which made him eligible to compete at the Farm Show. How the drama built for us as he practiced and prepared for his big moment. And, what excitement we all had when he won first place. Even though that was 50 years ago, we still talk about it.
I will never forget the excitement each year of attending the State Police Rodeo, also called The Pennsylvania State Police Field Exhibition. It was always a highlight for anyone who attended the Farm Show. The event was free and the arena was usually overflowing.
The Rodeo began as a competition and morale building exercise among the Troops. In the early 1920's the Rodeo gained public attention as people saw the amazing feats that the men, their horses and dogs could perform. In its final form the rodeo consisted of 12 events: A fancy drill with 32 mounted men executing a series of movements and patterns without command; trained police dogs; burning hoops; gymnastics; atomic car with the Keystone Kops clown acts; aerial balloon shooting; motorcycle stunt riding; clown shooting and clown horse; acrobatic riding; silent manual of arms; motorcycle drill; and the finale.
Even though we went many times, one Rodeo I will never forget was when Gene Autry, the cowboy of Hollywood fame, rode through the arena on his horse Champion for all of us to see.
The Rodeo came to an end around 1974 primarily because of financial considerations and a manpower shortage. Years after I attended we lived in northwestern Pennsylvania and a State Trooper was our neighbor. I talked with him about the Rodeo and how awed I was as a child at the marksmanship of the Troopers to shoot those balloons and never miss. He smiled and said they had buckshot in their pistols and it would have been almost impossible for them to miss.
Here are some important facts about the Pennsylvania State Police:
- Founded in 1905 as the first uniformed police organization of its kind in the U.S.
- Today has 4,677 sworn members and over 1,600 civilians.
- Serves as the primary police department for more than 1,700 Commonwealth municipalities, directly serving more than 3.2 million Pennsylvanians.
- First female Troopers joined in 1972.
- Troop T with 240 employees services the 531 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
- Provides nearly 20 Investigative Services and Assistance from Patrol Services to Liquor Control Enforcement and from K-9 to Computer Crime.
- Keeps a list of its 10 Most Wanted criminals in Pennsylvania.
- A Memorial Wall lists the 94 Troopers who have been killed in the line of duty.
The first two Troopers were killed on September 2, 1906 and the most recent, Trooper Blake T. Coble, died on October 4, 2012 when his patrol car was struck when a tractor trailer ran a stop sign at a high rate of speed. Trooper Coble was preparing for retirement and had served with the Pennsylvania State Police for 24 years.
The Core Purpose of the Pennsylvania State Police is clear: "To seek justice, preserve peace, and improve the quality of life for all." Sure, our heart rate may slightly pick up when we see a State Trooper parked along a road and we quickly glance at our odometer, but these heroes risk their lives each day for each of us. And for that we are profoundly grateful. Each one is a hero.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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Originally published with The Phoenix, www.phoenixvillenews.com