Late reserve officer continues to be honored

Julie Hirtzel is humbled and overwhelmed.

First, her husband, James Richard “Rick” Hirtzel, was posthumously named the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department’s Jerry Hounshel Reserve Officer of the Year for 2021.

Rick was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after turning 55, and he died Oct. 12, 2021. The Seymour native and U.S. Air Force veteran had still been serving as a reserve officer and was working at Nippon Steel Pipe America Inc., formerly Seymour Tubing, both for more than 32 years.

Then during National Police Week, 563 names, including Rick, were added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., and they were read during a candlelight vigil May 13 at the National Mall.

Two days later, on Peace Officers Memorial Day, the names were read again during a memorial service from the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

Julie and her daughter, Chelsea Hirtzel, were honored to be there for both events.

Now, Rick is among eight Indiana law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2021 to have their pictures featured on the support truck that’s part of the 21st annual Cops Cycling for Survivors bicycle tour around the state.

It started July 11 and ends July 23, including a stop at 10:30 a.m. July 22 at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department in Brownstown.

“It means so much to know that not just Rick but these officers this past year who lost their life and whatever battle, they are begin honored,” Julie said. “I think especially with this Cops Cycling for Survivors, it’s a never forget for them.”

At the end of 2021, Julie said she was at the sheriff’s department talking to a Fraternal Order of Police representative one day when Sheriff Rick Meyer let her know her husband had been chosen for the reserve officer award.

Also at that time, the FOP rep connected her to state and national Facebook groups for surviving spouses and shared information about the all-expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital in May.

“I had no idea that FOP was part of this at all. … You don’t know until something like that happens,” Julie said. “It’s an awesome connection. They have funds, so for the spouse and the children and even the siblings, the trip is sponsored. They pay for your flight, hotel room. You could go pretty much anywhere in D.C. because police officers all around the United States are there to volunteer their time, so it’s really an amazing experience.”

There also is a group of women who are there to support first-time families.

“When we arrived at the airport, there is somebody there the whole step of the way for you,” Julie said.

The bus they rode in to the candlelight vigil received a police escort the whole way. Rick was one of six officers from the Southern District of Indiana who died in 2021 and had their names read and added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial. Families received a large framed image that included a photo of their loved one.

“The wall itself I would recommend, even if you don’t have a loved one there,” Julie said. “In all of the chaos of D.C., it’s just very hustle and bustle, (the wall) is just the most peaceful place. There were times that Chelsea and I were both there, and it’s just peaceful. I think, for me, to be able to touch your loved one’s name that’s engraved in that wall, it’s just powerful.”

They had another police escort to the memorial service May 15. President Joe Biden spoke, the names were read again, families had an opportunity to place a flower in a wreath and they received a Supreme Sacrifice Medal of Honor from the FOP.

According to National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, 319 of the officers who lost their lives in 2021 related to COVID-19.

During the trip, Julie and Chelsea also visited the National Law Enforcement Museum, where there was a memorial wall with the 563 names and people could write tributes or thoughts.

“To share that experience with people that you didn’t know, everybody had tears in their eyes,” Julie said.

While in D.C., Julie and Chelsea were escorted by a police officer from Greenfield. An officer was assigned to each family there.

“I have to say between all of the individual states and the national FOP, they did an amazing job getting everything pulled off because that couldn’t have been an easy task,” Julie said.

“The whole experience, they were there for you, anything that you needed,” she said. “In fact, I was told if you woke up in the middle of the night and you felt you had to go to the wall, there was somebody that would take you to the wall. The support was amazing. It’s overwhelming. I’m beyond grateful because I want (Rick) to be remembered.”

Also while meeting with the FOP rep at the end of 2021, Julie was connected with a police officer from Bloomington who let her know about Cops Cycling for Survivors.

That began in 2002 with a ride to D.C. to honor fallen officers. The cyclists now ride through Indiana, meeting with survivors of officers to support them as they continue to deal with the loss of loved ones. The group honors the more than 450 Indiana officers killed in the line of duty by reading a memorial for each officer during the tour.

Over the 13 days this month, the group will bike nearly 1,000 miles. Cyclists include survivors, law enforcement officers and friends of law enforcement. Interested cyclists also may contact the group for information on joining all or parts of the ride.

While the group rides in support and memory of all fallen officers, each year, the support truck honors officers killed in the line of duty from the previous year.

Cops Cycling for Survivors, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, also raises financial support for survivors. Proceeds from the annual ride provide line of duty death benefits for primary survivors and fund scholarships, camps and other avenues of support for survivors. The group also assists Line of Duty Death Justice as survivors work through years of court dates, including parole hearings and appeals.

On July 22, the ride will go from Madison to Bloomington, including the stop in Brownstown. The public is invited to stop by the sheriff’s department to see the support truck and meet the participants and families.

“There again, amazing group of people,” Julie said. “At the sheriff’s department, they will be fed lunch. We’ll also eat with them and get to meet and chat with them, so that will be really neat.”

If you go 

What: Cops Cycling for Survivors stop in Brownstown

When: 10:30 a.m. July 22

Where: Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, 150 E. State Road 250, Brownstown

Who: The public is invited to see the support truck, which includes a picture of late Reserve Officer James Richard “Rick” Hirtzel, and meet the cyclists, including survivors, law enforcement officers and friends of law enforcement riding in support and memory of all fallen officers

At a glance 

Cops Cycling for Survivors makes every attempt to contact survivors, including family, co-workers, descendants and others, of fallen officers but may not have contact information for some.

Survivors are asked to be in touch with the group at Cops Cycling for Survivors, P.O. Box 597, Ellettsville, IN 47429, by phone at 812-727-0725 or email [email protected].

Information and a donation page may be found online at