Motorcycles lined up rank-and-file, hitting the road for a group ride to the highest point in Florida, to honor law enforcement offers killed in the line of duty.
Family members of fallen heroes, law enforcement professionals and friends gathered together at the Britton Hill State Park Fallen Officer Monument to pay their respects and lay a wreath to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The memorial was officiated by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and included a 21-gun-salute performed by their honor guard. The names of the fallen officers and their respective departments were called out with special recognition given to their family members in attendance.
They gathered and held the ceremony at the highest point in Florida, Britton Hill, which stands at an elevation of 345 feet. The three-day-rally was for "Cops on Top," an annual memorial climbing event dating back to 2006. Teams have been aiming to honor fallen officer in their state by climbing their state's highest point, according to the organization.
Members of the Santa Rosa County Chapter XXXI of the Blue Knights were joined by other active and retired law enforcement officers from surrounding counties and other states as well as “Green Knights” (US military) and “Red Knights” (Fire Fighters). Representation included Blue Knights Chapters 3, 25, 26, and 31.
A total of 47 motorcycles made the ride from Milton to the memorial site outside of Defuniak Springs. President Bill Brandenburg of the local Blue Knights chapter XXXI, President Frank Sarver of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123, and Ed Gallant, one of the founders of the Blue Knights International organization, laid a wreath at the monument.
Santa Rosa County Deputies Danny Michael Lee Davis, Tom Wilkie, Drew Richards, Tim Lynch, Florida Highway Patrol officer Randy Johnson and guests were also in attendance.
The Blue Knights were established in 1974 with a group of seven guys from a police department in Bangor, Maine, according to Gallant. They shared a common interest in motorcycles and would ride as a way of relaxing off-duty. Gallant said it's a brotherhood. There's a camaraderie that binds the group together, along with a commitment to community.
Gallant said one day, a couple of guys from a Massachusetts police department showed up in blue jumpsuits, asking to be part of the club. That was the moment when the second chapter formed. The Blue Knights are now an international organization---active in 30 different countries and 637 chapters across the United States.
The local Blue Knights Chapter XXXI was formed in Santa Rosa County in September 2012. It includes officers from the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Milton Police Department, Escambia Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol. The non-profit local fraternal organization now has 31 active-and-retired members who spend most of their weekends riding and raising funds for various charities. They are comprised of local law enforcement, state and federal officers.
They also sponsor the Southwest Panhandle Search and Rescue K9 Emotional First Aid team who recovered 3 US Coast Guardsmen who perished in Mobile Bay, due to a helicopter crash. They do search and rescue for Santa Rosa and local surrounding counties in the Gulf area. They were the 2012 recipient of the “FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award.”
The chapter sponsors the annual Santa Fly-In event with proceeds going to the Santa Rosa Kids House. Last year, members of the group surprised hundreds of children when Santa landed at the Peter Prince Airport in East Milton.
Special thanks to local supporters and sponsors of the three day rally for “Cops on Top.” If you are interested in joining/supporting this local chapter contact Blackwater Chapter FL. XXXI, PO Box 4658 Milton, FL. 32572-4658.