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Memorial honors those killed protecting wildlife areas

May 13, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Working undercover to control illegal hunting of endangered wildlife species and managing the wide open spaces of National Wildlife Refuges are the most sought-after jobs in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Both can be highly dangerous.

Since 1922, 59 U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees have been killed while helping to run wildlife programs for the agency, said Steve Chase, spokesman for the agency's National Conservation and Training Center outside Shepherdstown. Employees have been murdered, consumed by wildfire and have died in plane crashes, Chase said.

Edgar Albert Lindgren, a law enforcement officer in Iowa, was the first agency official to be killed in the line of duty. On Aug. 22, 1922, Lindgren approached a group of hunters who were poaching and was murdered, said Mona Womack, deputy director of the training center.

"He asked for their license and they just shot him in cold blood," said Womack.

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Now a special place has been set aside to remember those who lost their lives protecting the country's wildlife resources.

With the help of Shepherdstown artist Joe Mayer and his son, Eric, training center officials erected a memorial for the 59 fallen employees. In the middle of the training center's campus, a curved wall displays etched slate plaques commemorating each of the individuals.

Each plaque includes the name of the person, the date they perished, and the field station they were assigned to.

Mayer and his son designed the memorial.

After entering the area between two trees, there is an open space where visitors can view the names and pay silent tribute.

"They wanted to create a place for quiet contemplation. We are really pleased with what they came up with," Chase said.

In the middle of the memorial is a spot where agency officials hope to install a bronze statue of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer, Chase said. The viewing area in the memorial is concrete, but agency officials plan to pave it with red brick.

To raise money for the statue, agency officials plan to sell individual bricks to U.S. Fish and Wildlife supporters in return for their names being permanently etched in the bricks, Chase said.

The memorial will be officially unveiled Monday, when hundreds of National Wildlife Refuge biologists are expected to come to the center off Shepherd Grade Road for a week-long conference, said Womak. Members of the agency's staff will read off the names of the 59 individuals memorialized.

Some of the biologists attending the conference worked with some of the people who were killed and are expected to assist in reading the names, Womack said.

"It's going to be a pretty moving ceremony," she said.

The fallen employees honored at the memorial range from former Alaska regional director Clarence J. Rhode to Elmer Simpson, who was a maintenance worker for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge just north of Las Vegas.

Rhode was flying in a wildlife refuge near the Arctic Circle on Aug. 21, 1958, when his plane went down. The wreckage was not found until about 20 years later by backpackers, Chase said.

On Aug. 26, 1980, Simpson loaded equipment for a new communications tower in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge onto a helicopter. Simpson was transporting the equipment to a repeater station on Hayford Peak when the helicopter lost power and crashed, killing him, according to the agency's Web site.

Two others honored in the memorial are Scott Jay Maness and Beau William Sauselein, wildlife experts who were killed while trying to fight a fire in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Melbourne, Fla., on June 7 1981. The two were plowing around the fire using a tractor when winds suddenly shifted, causing the fire to trap them.

They tried to set up a fire shelter supplied to them but they burned to death, according to the Web site.

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