ST. JOSEPH — The deaths of people in 1929 might not be a daily thought for someone in 2018, but that doesn’t make those deaths any less important. 

That’s why John Kraklau of St. Joseph said he and his daughter Alexa came to the Annual Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Day Service Tuesday at Lake Bluff Park.

Among the 20 law enforcement officers from Berrien County who died in the line of duty was Kraklau’s great-grandmother’s first cousin, Charles Skelley.

Skelley, a St. Joseph police officer, was shot and killed by one of Al Capone’s henchmen following a traffic accident Dec. 14, 1929.

“My great-uncle came every year for a lot of years, and he passed away eight years ago,” Kraklau said. “And I’ve been coming with my great-aunt, and she would be here today, but she’s just getting over a bad cold. She’s 91.”

He said his aunt and uncle were kids when it happened and very few relatives are left to come to the memorial service and place a flower on the memorial.

“My best friend is a St. Joseph police officer as well. So it’s kind of important to be here. It’s kind of sad when nobody’s there,” Kraklau said. “I know it’s a long time ago, but it wasn’t any less significant than other ones. It’s a little bit different. It’s not fresh in our minds obviously because I wasn’t born yet, but it’s pretty interesting.”

He said Skelley was just 25 with no spouse or kids when he was killed. 

“That makes it a little extra sad,” Kraklau said.

Chaplain Wayne Shearier with the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department gave an invocation and benediction at the service. He said that each of the people that died in the line of duty served out of a sense of duty. 

“Duty to this community. Duty to maintain peace and order in this community,” he said. “It’s good for us to be here to take time to remember. To remember the lives cut short, to remember the sacrifices, to remember the pain inflicted on family and friends of those whos names are carved here in stone and carved in the hearts of those that loved them.”

Capt. Kyle Bowman, Fifth District commander of the Michigan State Police, was the speaker at the service. He said when he puts on his uniform he thinks about those who came before him. 

“We must conduct ourselves in the highest level of professionalism and honor of the brave men and women that have answered the call and gave their all,” he said.

Bowman said it is in part because of how they lived that he is proud to call himself a law enforcement officer.

“Lately I’ve notice that there is a great deal of talk about the dangers of a career in law enforcement. The risk is amplified by the anti-police rhetoric,” he said. “And my response when asked about this is that I can find no greater time in my 23 years of service than to serve now. And for my colleagues here today: let this Peace Officers Memorial Day remind us that how we have chosen to serve comes with the history of those that have fallen.” 

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officer’s Memorial Day and the week in which that day falls as National Police Week. This year, the names of 360 officers killed in the line of duty in 2017 were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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