Troopers Terry Eaton, Vance Griffin, Rick Smith and Bill Werkmeister were honored Saturday with a Medal of Valor from the Texas Highway Patrol Association and Museum. The four are based out of the Department of Public Safety’s Ellis County offices, where a ceremony was held in front of family members and friends.

“This honor is long overdue,” Sgt. Mark Lockridge said, noting the troopers were being recognized for their heroism during an August 2006 incident in Midlothian.

The troopers had responded to a “shots fired, officers down” call, arriving on scene to find that an armed suspect barricaded in an apartment had already shot three Midlothian officers.

As the four troopers worked together to remove the wounded officers, Smith was shot in the face. The remaining three then provided cover and fire until they were able to pull him out of harm’s way.

The association, which formed in 1991 to serve member troopers and troopers at large across the state of Texas, started its Medal of Valor recognition in 1996 as a way for troopers to honor their own.

Troopers in the field send in their suggestions as to who should be honored, with the association’s board narrowing the field to a group of nominees.

According to the association’s criteria, “The nominees must have performed a duty and or service to the public and or fellow trooper/police officer that was above and beyond the normal call of duty for a trooper.”

The ballot is submitted to all trooper-members for their vote, with the board confirming the results and making the presentation. Recipients are honored with a plaque containing the medal, a cash award and recognition in the association’s magazine and the Texas Highway Patrol Museum.

Lockridge said the local troopers’ heroic efforts occurred in the same time span when several other Highway Patrol members also had demonstrated an exemplary response – contributing to the delay in their recognition as the association is limited to one ceremony of recognition per year.

He said the membership hadn’t forgotten, though, about the heroism displayed by Eaton, Griffin, Smith and Werkmeister – and had kept on it to ensure the four were presented with the association’s highest honor.

The four troopers also were previously recognized with the DPS’ highest honor – the state agency’s Medal of Valor – with Smith also receiving a Purple Heart.

“These four troopers saved lives with their willingness to put themselves in danger to protect others,” said former director of DPS, then Col. Thomas A. Davis Jr., in a statement at the time.

“Their devotion to duty is an example to all troopers. We are proud they work for the Department of Public Safety.”

“In law enforcement, we know our jobs are dangerous. Yet when an incident such as this occurs and you see officers willingly placing themselves in a bullet-riddled environment to rescue a fallen officer and protect innocent citizens, it is truly a heroic act,” Highway Patrol Chief Randall K. Elliston said in a December 2006 DPS publication.

“I am certainly proud of each of these troopers and I am sure the citizens of Texas are as well.”

The Texas Highway Patrol Association, which formed in 1991 to serve DPS trooper-members and troopers at large, is part of the Texas Highway Patrol Museum, which is located in San Antonio. A private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the museum is not affiliated with the DPS.

For more information, visit online at http://www.thpa.org.

E-mail JoAnn at joann@wninews.com.