Volunteer steps up to maintain memorial to fallen officers

April 14, 2010

EPSOM - It's been two years since a memorial at the Epsom Traffic Circle was dedicated to the memory of Jeremy Charron and Michael Briggs, police officers killed in the line of duty.

But not long after the dedication ceremonies ended and the photo ops were over, the site around the memorial fell into disrepair.

The neglect quickly caught the attention of Mike Dempsey, an Epsom resident who knew both officers well.

The military veteran and retired Valley Street jail corrections officer asked town officials, state officials, and area Elks and American Legion lodges that had donated the materials what should be done.

The finger-pointing began. Dempsey said it became clear that no one ever had decided who would maintain the site.

"Becoming extremely frustrated, I just did it all myself," Dempsey said.

For the past two years, Dempsey has fixed cracks on the base of the flagpole, mowed grass and picked up trash. Last week, Dempsey, president of the White Mountain Chapter of the Nam Knights Motorcycle Club -- a group of honorably discharged veterans and retired law enforcement officers -- got group members to spend two hours sprucing up the memorial site.

"Today it's only going to take two hours because I have a lot of help," Dempsey said.

The group raked brush and painted a "Thin Blue Line" law enforcement brotherhood symbol at the base of the flagpole. They also replaced an American flag that was torn during recent storms with one donated by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen that had flown over the Capitol in Washington.

"It's just the right thing to do," said George Morin, who spent 26 years in the military. "It's out of respect for those guys that did the ultimate for us. It's hard to give back to someone who's gone."

In recent months, Dempsey said, the Barnstead and Pembroke fire departments have lent their ladder trucks to assist with repairing flags at the top of the 65-foot pole. He also wrote letters to area newspapers asking local residents to form a group to maintain the memorial.

The disabled vet said he doesn't mind the work, but he's not sure how long he'll be able to do it.

"When volunteers like us get too old and fade away, so will the care here," he said.

One of the first calls he received since writing the letters was from Michael Briggs' father, Leland.

"He came to my house after reading the article in the paper," Dempsey said. "He said, 'We never knew you guys were doing that.'"

Briggs offered to pay for new flags, Dempsey said.

"I said, 'With all due respect, you don't have to pay for flags to honor your son's memory. Not as long as I'm alive,'" he said.

"When the circle was dedicated, I thought the state was going to be doing it (maintenance)," Leland Briggs said recently. "I think he's (Mike Dempsey) done a good job out there and people should thank him for it."

Dempsey has been friendly with the Briggs family since Michael Briggs was a boy volunteering as a Scout firefighter in Epsom and Dempsey was a volunteer, part-time police officer in the 1980s. The two would work together years later when Briggs was a Manchester police officer and Dempsey worked at the jail.

Epsom Selectman Joanne Randall said she applauds the veterans' efforts and helped get them in touch with firefighters for assistance. However, she said the town has no jurisdiction over the memorial.

"We're not required or allowed as the town to spend money to maintain it," Randall said.

According to a state Department of Transportation spokesman, organizers of the memorial, who included state Sen. Jack Barnes, understood that DOT would provide minimal maintenance on the site, such as mowing the grass twice a year, just as it does with any land near state-owned roadways.

"We made it very clear when this all started that the State of New Hampshire would not be involved in the upkeep of this circle," said Bill Boynton of the state DOT. "It's their responsibility."

Randall said it might be good that the memorial requires volunteerism.

"It's almost better that people are actually doing it because they want to," she said. "When the state or federal government takes it over, it's not a good deed anymore. It's a mandate."

In the meantime, Dempsey said the phones at his house and the Epsom police department continue to ring when people drive by the memorial and notice it's been neglected.

"My phone and the Epsom Police Department's phone rings off the hook with local veterans and citizens complaining we're not fixing or cleaning things fast enough," he said. "As a volunteer, I do not think this is fair. But it is what it is."

By:  Dan O’Brien
Source: Union Leader