One more named was added to the monument in the middle of Franklin Square Park Wednesday during the annual Living Flame Memorial ceremony, which honors fallen police officers and firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.
Officer Walter J. DeWitt III, 55, a 33-year veteran and decorated member of the Philadelphia Police Department, died suddenly in June of last year from complications on the operating table. He was undergoing surgery to his shoulder after suffering a recurring injury he originally sustained in the line of service in 1995. In 2014, he was re-injured in an accident at the Philadelphia Police Academy firing range, requiring the surgery in 2015.
A great number of police officers, firefighters, public officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Deputy Fire Commissioner Jesse Wilson and DeWitt’s family members and friends were in attendance at Wednesday’s service.
DeWitt’s widow, Denise, and his son, Walter J. DeWitt IV, 18, laid wreaths at the base of the Living Flame Memorial as the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums played a number of musical selections.
“I’m very grateful he’s being honored,” said DeWitt IV.
“He did 33 years here. Twenty of them were injured from his police crash in 1995, which the car malfunctioned, so he worked with a messed up shoulder for 20 years, and then it was re-injured recently.”
City Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis said Philadelphia is the only major city in the U.S. with a memorial dedicated to fallen police and firefighters combined.
The city has honored police and fire heroes lost in the line of duty for the past 20 years at the 7th and Race streets site. The ceremony takes place annually during the first week of May.
“These men and women are united by one common cause, to respond to those in need, no matter what the danger or risk of personal harm,” said DiBerardinis.
“We will never be able to fully express our gratitude for their service in the daily course of protecting all of us.”
According to city documents, since records have been kept at the Philadelphia Fire Department, dating back to 1871, 290 members have made the ultimate sacrifice in the official line of duty. Since 1828, at the police department, 270 officers have lost their lives.
“It is my sincere prayer that God strengthens you for what you have continued to endure over the years in grief and sorrow,” said Ross.
“I pray for you daily.”