Lebanon Junction to honor fallen police officers

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By Mallory Bilger

LEBANON JUNCTION – Lebanon Junction’s railroad-town history is filled with intricate stories of bar brawls and shoot-outs eerily similar to stories of the old west.

But Lebanon Junction Police Officer Col. Steve Hamilton wants to remind citizens that before they get caught up in the nostalgia of a bygone era, the colorful stories often came at an expensive price and weren’t necessarily as glamorous as they seemed.

For more than a year Hamilton, with the help of other department staff, has been investigating the history of Lebanon Junction law enforcement officials who were killed in the line of duty.  Hamilton said in the early 1900s he suspects the town had only one or two marshals on duty.

Town marshals Frye Haley and Wallace Van Fleet were perhaps the only two officers in Bullitt County’s history to be killed while on the job until August 1972 when police chief Eddie Schultz died of a heart attack while on duty.

Hamilton hopes to raise money to erect a small monument in Lebanon Junction’s square to memorialize the fallen officials.

“I’m trying to get some recognition for these officers that died,” Hamilton said. “They are the only (ones) that I can find that have been killed in the line of duty in Bullitt County.”

Bullitt County Historical Society Director David Strange supported Hamilton’s claim.

“I haven’t found any others,” Strange said. “There’s a number that were shot or wounded over the years.”

Hamilton got the idea to investigate the police department’s history when he was at a local cemetery and noticed the tombstone of a Lebanon Junction town marshal.

After investigating, he discovered that gunshot wounds killed both Haley and Van Fleet.

Haley, 55, was killed April 14, 1904 after attempting to arrest a man on the front porch of Lebanon Junction’s Sparks Hotel, a popular bar hangout located on Main Street. According to historical accounts, another man interfered with the arrest and a gunfight resulted between the two.

Both were shot and killed.

“All the old timers around here remember it being a pretty rowdy place,” Hamilton said.

Van Fleet, whose age is currently not available, was killed April 29, 1936 after responding to a disturbance call. The suspect shot Van Fleet upon arrival and was executed in the electric chair less than a year later.

Hamilton said the heritage of Bullitt County law enforcement should be important to residents, especially those from Lebanon Junction. Although Van Fleet,  Haley and Schultz were killed decades ago, Hamilton said he feels a kinship with them because they died in the line of duty.

“This has been an important thing to me for a lot of reasons,” Hamilton said. “I’ve just had some experiences down here that made me realize what these marshals had to deal with.”

Hamilton said while researching the deaths he has recognized how much technology and advancement in law enforcement has added to police protection.

“(Back then) they’d throw you a badge and a gun and you went out to protect the city,” he said.

Hamilton said any officer that dies while on duty, no matter when or where, highlights the realities law enforcement officials face every day.

“You have to mentally prepare yourself for the worst . . . it’s always in the back of your mind,” Hamilton said of being dying while on duty. “You walk out of that house tomorrow and that could be the last time you put that uniform on.”

One of the most frustrating aspects’s of Hamilton’s search for information on the fallen marshals is that information is scarce. He has located photos of Schultz, Haley and Van Fleet, however, the photo of Van Fleet is too small to publish. Hamilton has registered both marshals with the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. at www.odmp.org and plans to do the same for Schultz.

Any information that residents have on Haley, Van Fleet, Schultz or any other Bullitt County officers believed to have been killed in the line of duty are encouraged to contact Hamilton at the Lebanon Junction Police Department at 833-2244.

Hamilton said the department is also accepting donations to erect a memorial for the three officials.