LA QUINTA – As Jim Stenson lowers the flag to half-staff, his neighbors and invited guests stand solemnly.
But there was a time when Stenson was the only one in front of his La Quinta condominium complex who was paying tribute to fallen soldiers and peace officers.
“I’d spend a few minutes out there contemplating to myself the importance of the day,” recalls Stenson. “And then go about my way.”
It was not until Pearl Harbor Day of 2008, Stenson says, when his flag ceremonies gained some attention.
“We were all having coffee in here, and I suggested they join me in lowering the flag. Someone suggested, ‘Who has something to say?'”
If it was not for Stenson, no one would have known on Friday morning just how much that day, known nationally as Peace Officers Memorial Day, meant to fellow condo resident Fred Metzger.
Metzger’s father, a firefighter for more than 19 years in Cleveland, Ohio, suffered a massive heart attack in the 1950s while responding to an emergency call.
Metzger becomes emotional when discussing his father.
“[You get emotional] especially when your dad was your hero growing up, and he was a great fireman. He was a fireman’s fireman,” he says.
The flag ceremony occurred two days after the six year anniversary of Deputy Bruce Lee’s Death. Lee was killed in the line of duty in 2003. He was responding to a disturbance call in La Quinta. His attacker brutally beat him with Lee’s own baton.
Vera Zaffis, who attended Friday’s event, says, “It’s just overwhelming sometimes to think they’re out there putting their lives on the line. I wish we could do more for them.”
A portion of Highway 111 in La Quinta is dedicated to Lee. His family and colleagues honored him this week with fresh wreaths at the road signs bearing his name.
Lee’s widow, Patsy, was not able to attend the ceremony.
Instead, she was in Washington, D.C. for the national commemoration. She is representing a group known as C.O.P.S.: Concerns Over Police Survivors.
Patsy Lee joined that group soon after her husband’s death.
In his proclamation, President Barack Obama announced: “The benefits that peace officers provide come with great sacrifice. Their contributions live on in the communities they strengthened, and their service will never be forgotten.”
Thanks to Jim Stenson and Fred Metzger, the national “Peace Officers Memorial Day” did not go unnoticed in the Coachella Valley.