Fallen police officers get grave markers; One of the more difficult tasks was finding the grave sites

By John Tunison

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- It took long hours searching through local cemeteries and scanning burial plot maps. Then came help from a local foundry and paint shop.

The end result: a fitting tribute to fallen Grand Rapids police officers with special iron flag markers for their grave sites.

"It's a recognition of the officers and their families. We should never forget these guys," said Grand Rapids police Capt. Jeff Hertel.

Hertel was instrumental in spearheading an effort to have iron flag markers constructed -- the top emblem modeled after the Grand Rapids police badge -- that will be placed at the grave sites of 16 officers next week.

"We are recognizing their sacrifices for the city of Grand Rapids," he said.

An idea to honor the fallen officers with flag markers has been around for years, Hertel said, but finally took root in recent months.

"I tried to get a grant for it, but that fell through so we pressed on anyway," Hertel said.

One of the more difficult tasks was simply finding the grave sites of the officers killed in the line of duty.

The first officer killed, Det. George Powers in 1895, had no marker whatsoever at his plot at Oak Hill Cemetery. The plot of another officer, Officer George Geng in 1921, was not in the location it was supposed to be at Oak Hill.

"I had to start from scratch for some of them," he said. "I got cemetery maps and figured it out, but it took awhile."

Finding the grave sites was just one part of the effort. The other was getting new flag markers forged in the likeness of the police badge.

Betz Industries stepped forward to make the markers free of charge. Betz normally makes automotive dies and machine tool castings for large applications.

The average weight of castings at the company is 10,000 pounds, said Dan Scott, human resources director at Betz.

"We were not used to doing such small items," he said.

But some of Betz's workers, including David Tronovich and Don Porter, came forward to help do the job. It involved using old aluminum flag markers, created some years earlier but never used because of their poor quality, for their design and making a sand mold.

Another company, West End Body Shop, painted the markers with silver and gold automotive paint that is expected to resist wear.

Scott said Betz officials felt strong about making a contribution.

"These people have given their life for the protection of others," he said. "So this was a small token on our part."

The effort to make the flag markers also has led to the Grand Rapids police union donating money to buy a grave marker for Powers, Hertel said.

He said one of the flag markers will be placed on the grave of Officer Andrew Rusticus. He died in February from a heart condition while off duty but was training for a dog-handling position at the department.

Published: Thu, Jun 7, 2012