Troopers getting long overdue salute
PITTSFIELD -- For the past six months, state police Trooper Andrew Canata has been pound ing the pavement between regional libraries and cemetery plots.
But his tireless detective work has not been a pursuit of a murder suspect or a dangerous drug dealer, but rather an effort of compassion to help three fallen troopers and their families find honor and peace.
Because of Canata's efforts, and the support he received from fellow police and community members, these men who died in service will be honored on Wednesday as part of National Police Week.
Back in November, Canata attended a breath-alcohol technician training program at the Western Massachusetts Crim inal Justice Training Council Academy on the campus of Springfield Technical Com munity College. While there, he took a moment to visit the Western Massachusetts Fallen Police Officer's Memorial.
"I figured I should stop and pay my respects, since I had never been there before," said Canata, who is based out of the Cheshire barracks.
The trooper said he remembered learning during his police academy training years ago, that there were seven police troopers, all from Troop B, who died in the line of duty in Western Massachusetts: Troop er George L. Prentiss, Trooper Alje M. Savela, Trooper Wallace E. Matthews, Sergeant James H. Marshall, Trooper Llewellyn A. Lowther, Trooper Charles F. McGonagle and Corporal Albert T. Hayes.
But while reviewing the names and plaques at the memorial, he noticed that three names were missing: Troopers Lowther and Mc Gonagle, and Cpl. Hayes.
Lowther was on patrol in Adams on Sept. 20, 1924, when he lost control of his motorcycle on a bad stretch of road and was killed. He was 30 years old. According to an archived statement, Lowther was "the first of many to suffer either serious injury or death by virtue of the then primary mode of transportation for the State Police, the motorcycle."
McGonagle also died in a motorcycle crash on Aug. 2, 1932, in East Longmeadow. He was 36.
Hayes, of Lenox, was driving in Holyoke on Feb. 9, 1940, when he was struck head on by another vehicle, and later died from injuries. He was 33 years old.
"I remember standing there, thinking that something had to be done," Canata said.
The memorial is maintained by the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Inc., whose president is Chief Donald Poirot of the Adams Police Department. Canata consulted with him, as well as retired Chief Philip Adams of the Hampden Police De partment and current organization secretary/treasurer, and got a project green light from his superior officers, Major Barry J. O'Brien, Capt. Patricia A. Driscoll and Lt. William C. Blackmer Jr.
The next charge he received was to track down and contact living family members of the fallen troopers, so they could be notified, so profiles of the three troopers could be compiled, and so the troopers could be appropriately honored.
Canata said he then scoured media archives with the help of librarian Jeannie Maschino at The Berkshire Eagle, local history specialist Ann-Marie Harris of the Berkshire Athenaeum, and members of Springfield City Library.
He used online resources, from Google search engines, WhitePages.com, Ancestry.com and even Facebook. He visited cemeteries, called funeral homes and town halls. He said he also found that other people, from fellow police members to historians and relatives of the deceased, had also had some research on these men and their families.
"This was a huge group effort that garnered a huge sense of community," Canata said.
The trooper was stumped a few times, because until last month, U.S. census data was only available up to 1930. Federal law prohibits public use of the census for 72 years from the original census date.
But through obituaries, online posts and a few phone calls, Canata was able to trace lines of heritage to the three troopers' living relatives. So, Troopers Lowther and Mc Gonagle, and Cpl. Hayes, each will be represented by a family member at Wednesday's ceremony at the memorial wall in Springfield. Each trooper will also have his name inscribed on the wall, with a plaque and bronze medal, with their name, rank, date appointed and date of death printed there.
Canata said this project, though frustrating at times, was worth the effort.
"A lot of these guys were doing things then that we do now, from school emergency planning to traffic safety, working with other state agencies and having performed military services," he said.
"We still do the same work, we still perform the same functions. This week, we remember that there are men and women police officers out there day and night, protecting their community and putting themselves in harm's way for others. That's why it's important to remember all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our safety," Canata said.
To reach Jenn Smith:
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On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
If you go ...
What: The Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association's 24th annual Police Memorial Day Services.
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday
Where: Western Massachusetts Police Academy, Building 11, Springfield Technical Community College, One Armory Square, Springfield.
On the Web: To see a video of the fallen troopers of the Western Massachusetts memorial visit: http://bit.ly/K8CERm
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