The annual Surry-Yadkin County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Service Friday in Mount Airy was meant to honor all eight officers in those counties killed in action, but the spotlight was on one in particular.
Sgt. Greg Martin, the most recent officer to die, was remembered in a special way with the dedication of a classroom in his name at the Surry County Human Services Center on State Street here. Members of the officer’s family, including his widow and his mother in a wheelchair, were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at the Gregory Keith Martin Memorial Classroom, where Surry Community College now is offering Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) courses.
When Martin was fatally shot on the side of Interstate 77 in 1996, he became the first — and so far only — graduate of the college’s BLET program to be killed in the line of duty.
During the memorial service, the 75 people in attendance — an audience consisting of about a dozen relatives of area officers who have been slain, including Martin — were told how Martin’s career began as a water meter reader in Mount Airy in the early 1990s.
He decided he wanted to be a police officer and completed the local Basic Law Enforcement Training program before joining the Mount Airy Police Department in 1991. Martin became a member of the Jonesville Police Department in 1993 and was promoted to sergeant.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 1996, Martin, 30, was shot several times after stopping a Dodge Ram pickup on I-77 in Yadkin County. His body was found along the roadside by Trooper Vann Tate of the N.C. Highway Patrol, who attended Friday’s event. Martin’s murder was a cold case for nearly 16 years until three arrests were made beginning in October, thanks to the investigative efforts of law enforcement personnel on hand Friday as well.
Given his association with the BLET program, the dedication of the Gregory Keith Martin Memorial Classroom was viewed as an appropriate gesture that will keep his memory alive.
“It means a lot,” Martin’s widow, Lisa Martin, said after the dedication ceremony while outside the classroom where generations of other trainees will learn skills to become law enforcement officers. “Because Greg loved this.”
“Even in his death, he has been a true inspiration to our students,” college official George Sappenfield said during the memorial service, “and is remembered every year at graduation.”
“I knew Greg Martin — I talked to him several times in years past,” said Friday’s main speaker, Dean Gordon, director of public safety training at Surry Community College.
“We will never forget him,” Gordon added.
Police Chaplain Gray Shelton, a retired longtime member of the Mount Airy Police Department, said in delivering a prayer outside the classroom that it always will be a reminder of Martin’s bravery and dedication.
In another area of the county Human Services Center where the memorial service took place, photographs of Surry-Yadkin officers killed in the line of duty were ringed by wreaths of white spider mums.
Along with Martin, they include (in chronological order) Yadkin County Sheriff J.E. Zachary, shot in 1920 while raiding a moonshine still; Officer Henry Dow Kennedy of the Mount Airy Police Department, who died after a car wreck during a 1946 chase, also involving moonshining; Surry County Deputy James Phillips Trevathan, the victim of a shootout with a hit-and-run driver in 1963;
Also, Pilot Mountain Police Department Officer James Thomas Jr., who was fatally shot when a suspect grabbed his gun at the police station in 1966; Pilot Mountain policemen Ralph East and Glenn Branscome, who were shot to death after stopping a stolen car in 1969; and Detective Clinton Monroe Boggs of the Mount Airy Police Department, another gunshot victim who died in 1971 trying to arrest a car thief.
Sheriffs of Surry and Yadkin counties, as well as the police chiefs of the municipal departments involved, read biographies during Friday’s service of their predecessors who died. It also was attended by other law enforcement personnel and elected officials from the two counties.
“My prayer is that this list never grows,” Kevin Austin, a member of the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners, said during the program. “It’s a relief this list is no longer than it is…and let’s pray it never gets longer.”
Also Friday, Chet Jessup, a retired state ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) agent, led a special presentation in the memory of George Arnold Kemp, another slain officer who he said was represented by a wreath without a picture.
While Kemp was not killed in either Surry or Yadkin counties, he has ties to this area, having been born in Carroll County, Va., in 1904. His son, James F. Kemp, is a native of Surry and a longtime Mount Airy resident.
But for a time the family resided in Thomasville, where George Arnold Kemp served as a police officer.
As related by Jessup Friday, Kemp apparently had discovered clandestine activities involving late-night gambling and other illegal acts by prominent citizens which were occurring at a Thomasville bank in 1942.
Kemp tried to intervene at one point, but was killed by a blow to the back of the head, with his body found in an elevator shaft at the bank.
City officials swept the matter under the rug, even though an official inquiry at the time ruled Kemp’s death as a homicide, Jessup said. In the decades since, Thomasville leaders have offered no apology and otherwise “shunned” the Kemp family, he said.
James F. Kemp was honored with a plaque Friday in recognition of the sacrifice by his father.
“All I can say is, thank you, thank you,” Kemp said of how much it means to him. But, “to this day,” he added, “nothing from Thomasville.”
Jessup, a Pilot Mountain resident who has organized programs to recognize slain officers for about six years, said an average of 154 officers have died in the U.S. each year over the last decade. That is a rate of one every 57 hours, he said.
“We owe it to all of these officers to be here to keep their memory alive,” Yadkin County Sheriff Ricky Oliver said of the need to attend law enforcement memorial services for the eight who have died in this area.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.