Border Patrol honors its fallen

rejoices over a death-free year

May 15, 2001|By JESSICA ROCHA, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Every 15 minutes, Border Patrol agents ceremoniously changed guard Monday, stoically marching in memory of those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

As part of National Police Week, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had its own memorial service and honor watch for the 88 agents who have died since the Border Patrol's inception in 1924.

This year, though, was a little different. There were no new "survivors" — or people who lost their loved ones — at the memorial ceremony Monday morning. And that's because there was nobody to survive.

For the first time in five years, no Border Patrol agents died in the line of duty last year.

Though the mood remained somber, Senior Patrol Agent J.E. Bunner Jr. said the agents felt some relief.

"Thank God we don't have the grief of having to honor brothers and sisters we lost this year," Bunner said.


It was a short reprieve, however. Two agents already have died this year, both in Laredo, Texas.

The ceremonies and watch were still personal for the agents and families who attended the "Blue Mass" at Sunday's and Monday's services.

"It's such a moving ceremony for those families," said Supervisory Agent Dan M. Harris Jr., who had a family member die while serving in law enforcement years ago. "And something that was very difficult for everyone there — all the survivors — was that it was Mother's Day also."

Though INS has always participated in the general ceremonies that traditionally take place every May, this is the third year it offered its own ceremonies as well.

"The function in Washington, D.C., is a very fitting and moving ceremony," said Ken Stitt, chief patrol agent of the Border Patrol El Centro sector. "It's the least we can do to honor these persons that have given their life to serve their country."

The INS ceremony started in 1999 after a record eight INS agents were killed.

"Four years ago it became a really important issue to properly honor the agents," Harris said.

The El Centro sector has lost just one agent in its operating history. In 1987, John R. McCravey was 37 years old when he drowned in the All-American Canal after being thrown from his vehicle. He had been with the Border Patrol for less than two years.

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