Monument honors officers, sheriffs who died on duty

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Deputy sheriffs place wreaths at the new memorial outside the county jail on Friday. The memorial was made from 10 stones taken from the old jail in downtown Riverhead.

Riverhead resident Frances Alec stood paralyzed at the edge of the tent. Two young boys shuffled by her, eventually joining a crowd of mourners in placing roses in memory of their loved ones.

It had been 29 years since Ms. Alec lost her husband, Ronald, and the pain had never really gone away. Now, she stood outside his former workplace, just steps away from an historic monument honoring the sacrifice of her husband and other deputy sheriffs and correction officers who have died in service since 1887.

But when the master of ceremonies invited family members to place roses around the memorial site, Ms. Alec couldn’t.

“I wanted to, but my legs wouldn’t move,” she said after the ceremony. “I froze. You just don’t ever get over it.”

The new monument was unveiled at a ceremony at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside on Friday. Until then, the annual event offered only flowers and wreathes. The monument provides a more permanent means to commemorating the lives of the dead.

“Dying for your country isn’t the worst thing in the world,” state Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr. (D-Brooklyn) said during a ceremony Friday. “Being forgotten is. These men and women have sacrificed their lives for our safety, and we will not let them be forgotten.”

Lining the memorial walkway are 10 granite stones, each surrounded by red perennials, taken from the remains of Riverhead’s old Griffing Avenue jail. They’re placed strategically beneath an American flag at the facility’s entrance. Family members can find the names of their loved ones engraved on a mounted plaque set vertically into one of the stones.

“My goal was to try to utilize the stones to their greatest potential,” said Riverhead landscaper Frank Esposito, who designed the memorial site. “I wanted a funnel, a visual link from the sheriff’s building to the flag.”

Eight of the 10 stones are placed horizontally at a 45-degree angle to the walkway, strengthening the “visual link” Mr. Esposito envisioned and providing family members with a place to sit and reflect.

The monument, eight months in the making, was completed entirely by volunteers at no cost to the county. Local businesses donated the materials and facility inmates helped with the construction. County undersheriff John Meyerricks oversaw the project’s completion with the help of county correction officers.

“It was something of Meyerricks’ career long-goal to have a more formal memorial site,” said Sheriff’s office chief of staff Michael Sharkey. “This is a much more respectful setting to honor these people … quite an impressive undertaking.”

Those in attendance were equally impressed.

“This is just one of the nicest, most gracious things they could do,” said Ms. Alec, who has tried to attend the event every year since her husband died.

Jean Vuolo, whose husband, a corrections officer, died of a heart attack last year, sent her two youngest sons to place the family’s rose at the memorial site.

“When he passed away, I was 44, and he was only 47,” Ms. Vuolo said. “I never realized that I was going to take this journey by myself for the rest of my life. My worst nightmare came true, but I tell the boys that he’s with us all the time.”

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