He just barely finished the walk in time to get to the event he spent months organizing and planning. John Long, director of Christian Social Ministry, completed 50 miles of walking at 11:48 a.m. Wednesday, arriving at Connection Church 12 minutes before the “50 in Honor of the Fallen Five-O” memorial service began.
It was Long’s third annual walk, but the first one that culminated with a memorial service attended by law enforcement officers from across the county. Four-legged officers attended, too, but waited outside with handlers.
Long’s long walk began at 5:58 p.m. Tuesday and he made his way around Veterans Memorial Parkway for two full loops to complete the 50 miles with law enforcement escorts for safety.
Donations that Long collected for the walk will benefit the Statesboro Police Officers Foundation, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Foundation, Peace Officers Association of Georgia, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Explorer Post 8, Georgia Police K9 Foundation and Two Hundred Club of the Coastal Empire.
With sore legs, an aching back and a little bit of heavy breathing, Long spoke Wednesday at the service honoring law enforcement officers, sharing his motivation.
“People ask me if I have family that are members of law enforcement, if that’s why I do this walk,” he said. “I do have a nephew who was in law enforcement in Chicago before he retired and many friends in law enforcement.
“I have three reasons that I do what I do.”
At that point, Long called up, one by one, three beautiful girls, ages 14, 11 and 5.
“They call me ‘Pops,’” he said with obvious emotion.
“This is our future. And without you men and women, there would be no future. Because of what you do as law enforcement officers, I’m not concerned when I take my grandchildren to get ice cream after school or go to Splash or go to church. We get to enjoy these freedoms here because of you. And for that, I thank you.”
Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James “Bubba” Revell said that 163 law enforcement officers lost their lives nationwide in the line of duty in 2018 and 42 have already lost their lives this year.
“As I was walking on the bypass last night, I thought about the four children and a wife in Savannah grieving just this week. Their lives are turned upside down,” Long said about the shooting death on Saturday of Savannah Police Sgt. Kelvin Ansari.
“And it hit me that you guys willingly choose to do this every day in a world that continues to grow more hectic, ungodly, brutal. And you guys are there to provide watch out for each and every one of us in our homes, our places of business, in schools.”
Long offered a prayer for law enforcement officers, as did Master of Ceremony Officer J.D. Lewis. Both asked for protection for the officers and strength for the families who’ve lost family members in the line of duty.
Bulloch County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson presented a framed proclamation to Long that formally declares May 15 as Peace Officer Memorial Day and the week of May 15 as National Police Week.
Police Department and Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office honor guards formed a joint team to formally fold the “blue line” flag that Long carried during his walk in honor of peace officers.
Long presented to Sheriff Noel Brown the flag he carried in his first walk three years ago.
“I walked 27 miles, but wound up in the hospital for a couple of days,” Long said. “Two weeks later, I went back and finished the 40-mile walk.”
He then presented last year’s flag that traveled 40 miles to Statesboro Chief of Police Mike Broadhead.
This year’s flag, still warm to the touch from the recent 50-miler and was just folded and placed in a case was presented to Georgia State Patrol Post 45 Commander Chris Rodewalt.
“5-0 is slang for police,” said Lewis, “so he decided to make it 50 miles this year.”
In a very moving and somber closing of the memorial service, Superior Court Judge Michael Muldrew read the names of Georgia law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2018 through May 15 of this year. With each name, an officer walked slowly to the front of the room to place a red rose in a vase as a bell tolled that officer’s passing.
Just before Muldrew began reading, he quoted John 15:13 from the Bible: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”