POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Sometimes, though not every time, the man in the arena lives to walk out of it and return another day.
Last December, Deputy Matt McCormick with the Mason County Sheriff’s Department, was on a call that ended in gunfire, with McCormick being injured in the line of duty.
McCormick eventually ended up at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. for treatment of an injury to his left eye and the surrounding area on his face. Surgeries followed and he supposed, in all, he was out for a total of three months before returning to active duty, full time.
Shortly after McCormick was injured, Chief Deputy Dave Downing contacted the organization that awards the Blue Heart Medal. During a ceremony earlier this month, Downing, along with Sheriff Greg Powers, presented the young deputy with the honor.
“The Blue Heart Medal is the first national medal to be awarded to law enforcement officers who are either seriously wounded or killed in the line of duty, it’s similar to the Purple Heart Medal awarded to military personnel,” Powers said to those gathered at the ceremony held inside the third floor courtroom at the Mason County Courthouse.
Powers said former President Theodore Roosevelt was on the medal, noting prior to becoming president, he was the New York City Police Commissioner.
In 1910, Roosevelt is credited with delivering the speech known as “The Man in the Arena.”
“Though it was written in 1910, it seems fitting for today when police officers are being criticized and attacked daily,” Powers said.
The sheriff read portions of the famous speech, looking out at officers with his department seated in the benches, ending his remarks with, “…‘no statue has ever been erected in honor of a critic. If you want to win, you have to show up, be vulnerable and be the man in the arena’ …which is what you guys are.”
Chief Deputy Downing then presented McCormick with the Blue Heart Medal, which includes a medal for the lapel, neck, a challenge coin and a pin.
Powers then told those gathered that each time McCormick calls him, he has a habit of saying, “Hey sir, how are you?” Powers said the morning the deputy was injured, he looked down at his cell phone to see McCormick phoning him, likely from the ambulance. Powers obviously took the call and was greeted with that same “Hey sir, how are you?”
McCormick recalled he apologized to Powers, saying, “You weren’t the first call I made, I actually called my mom first so she could get hold of my fiancée…he (the sheriff) said ‘that was fine.’”
Powers said it was the first time that morning where he felt like he could take a breath.
Following the medal presentation, McCormick, who was hired by the sheriff’s department in 2018 and had previously worked at the Point Pleasant Police Department, was asked if he ever doubted returning to law enforcement?
“There was some doubt whether I could do it or not,” McCormick said about the time shortly after being injured, when he was laying in a hospital bed, facing his recovery. “…I’m going to try to do it (the job) as long as I can do it.”
“He adapted really, really well,” McCormick’s fiancée Hope Henry said in regards to his recovery and return to active duty. “He had his uniform laid out for the next day when he went back to work, so I’d say he was pretty excited to go back…like the first day of school.”
The young couple was asked if life had changed for them in regards to how they deal with the risk law enforcement officers face, daily.
“To be honest, it’s not that different,” Henry said about their lives after the injury. “I mean, I trust him to always be careful and be safe. I obviously can’t control everyone else…”
“The worry has always been there,” McCormick said about the couple continuing to live their lives despite what they cannot control.
As Sheriff Powers pointed out in his remarks, these days, many law enforcement officers are facing a hostile environment from some, who are part of the all of the public, they have sworn to protect.
When asked about this, and what he wanted people to take away from his experience with his brothers in blue, McCormick said, “We’re not bad people…honestly, I try to treat everything the same, every call’s got its worth. People are out there hurting. Yeah, they (some people) can be mad at us if they want, that’s their choice, they have the right to do it, I’ll protect them nonetheless. If I want them to take away anything (from my experience), we’re still human, they hurt, we hurt. We go on calls to save their lives. I mean, I needed the cops just as much as anyone else to save my life that night.”
Also participating in the ceremony was Department Chaplain Jonathan Pinson and the Mason County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard which presented the colors.
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Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.