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Wife remembers her law enforcement husband during Peace Officers Memorial

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Lee Fifield was overcome with emotion as she leaned against a column outside First Presbyterian Church on Thursday during the playing of taps at the Rowan County Peace Officers Memorial Service.

The service was held to honor law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty or after retirement. The tribute made a return after a two-year absence.

Fifield cried tears for her husband of 11 years, John Michael Fifield, who died in January. He served as an Onslow County sheriff’s deputy and later with the Jacksonville Police Department in Onslow County. He also served in the Navy for over 20 years.

The couple moved to Salisbury in late 2016 from Texas. Three months after their move, John died.

“It’s so important when you look at the totality of the circumstances and having a family and having a loss,” she said of the service.

She found out about the program only an hour before it started and told herself she had to attend because of John.

“He would love this service. He would have been so happy,” Lee said with tear-stained cheeks.

Attending the service gave her some comfort, she said.

John Fifield served during the Vietnam War and, like so many others, he didn’t receive a warm welcome home, she said. He was even spat on.

She recalled seeing military pictures or movies in which someone handed a folded flag to a loved one left behind.

“In January at his funeral, a man knelt down and all of a sudden I’m in the picture. I was in this club that nobody wants to be in,” she said.

“He was a good officer — a big ole guy. He really cared about people. He really served the people well,” she said.

The Fifields lived in Colorado and Texas but moved to Salisbury after a suggestion from a friend. He’d been retired from law enforcement for some time, but the two wanted to spend their retirement years together.

They met while Lee was an undercover narcotics officer for the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office and they got caught up in a fight. John approached Lee and, without hesitation, she popped him on the nose.

“I backhanded him,” she said with a smile.

Lee has been retired from law enforcement for 22 years.

She would always cringe when John told the story of how they met, but it was amusing to her to share it.

The memorial service coincides with National Police Week, a time set aside each year to honor law enforcement officers and their work in the community.

The most recent line-of-duty death to affect Rowan County residents was that of Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputy John Thomas Isenhour, who died in September after he was injured in a wreck. Isenhour, who was a Rowan County native, was struck by a car while patrolling during a bike race.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Salisbury Police Department lost three retired officers this year: James “Jamie” Jones, who died in March; David Lynn Carroll, who died in February; and Albert Stout, who died last May and served with both the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the SBI.

“Services like this are a good reminder to honor those who have sacrificed. It reminds them police have difficult jobs. It takes a lot of bravery to do their job,” said Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

He was adamant the service needed to make a return.

“We are trying to recognize officers’ service and, by recognizing their sacrifice, we certainly recognize their service,” Stokes said.

“When officers die in the line of duty, it’s tragic. It’s usually sudden for the family. It lets the family know their service and lives were important,” said Sheriff Kevin Auten.

Auten said every year he’s reminded of the officers who either worked with him or inspired him like Albert Stout, who often stopped by the family’s house to talk with Auten’s father.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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