Deena Yale remembers the exact moment 40 years ago that she learned her uncle, Delaware State Trooper George W. Emory, had been killed in the line of duty.
"I was only 7, but I remember seeing the trooper's car driving down the lane at our farm in Delmar," she said last week. "I remember him coming to the door and my mother falling into tears. That's how we found out."
Yale and eight members of Emory's family – including his fiancée at the time his death – were on hand Thursday when the Delaware State Police paid tribute to the fallen trooper by dedicating a memorial sign in his honor on southbound U.S. Route 13 in Harrington.
"It's very endearing," Yale said of the event. "It brings back a lot of memories but it's wonderful to know that he's still thought of highly as a trooper and a person."
A graduate of Seaford High School, Emory was a Vietnam veteran who had been awarded a bronze star and two presidential unit citations while serving in the Army.
The 26-year-old had been a state trooper for just two years when a drunk driver rear ended him as he was driving home in his patrol car following a shift at Troop 3 near Camden on Friday, June 2, 1972. He was pronounced dead at Milford Memorial Hospital the following morning.
The drunk driver attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended by Franklin Fountain, a Bridgeville police officer who was the first responder on the scene. The man was later convicted of manslaughter and served two years in prison, according to a state police spokesman.
"When I got the call that this was going to happen, the floodgates opened and it was like it happened yesterday," Emory's fiancée Karen Henderson said. "I would have moved mountains in order to be here for this."
Henderson, who at that time went by her maiden name Rogers, had been dating Emory for more than a year after being introduced by his mother, a co-worker of hers at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford.
Although they planned to marry, they were waiting until after the weekend to go shopping for a ring, she said.
"The night he was killed, my roommate and I had just finished playing in a softball game, but I had to stop by and take care of few things at the hospital, so I was there in my cleats and everything," she said. "That's when his mother called and told me the news."
Henderson, who is now married and lives in Pennsylvania, described Emory as kind, honest and caring. She said he loved his work and had a fantastic family that she still keeps in touch with to this day.
Page 2 of 2 - "I have a box full of memories about George and before I came here I went through them all again," she said. "He would have been so honored by all this."
The blue metal sign honoring Emory, which is located on the roadway just outside a Subway, is just the latest roadside memorial the Delaware State Police have installed to recognize troopers killed in the line of duty. Seven memorials have been placed around the state so far, with six more recognizing troopers who gave their lives as far back as 1922 scheduled to take place in the coming year.
"Trooper Emory was a man of great courage and honor and we are here today to recognize his commitment to the people of Delaware and the United States," Delaware State Police Superintendent Col. Robert Coupe told Emory's family and the dozens of state police and community members also in attendance at Thursday's dedication ceremony. "This memorial sign will serve as a reminder of what is just and good."
L.J. Ward, a retired state trooper who met Emory while the two were in police academy together, said he's never forgotten his friend or his sacrifice.
"The thing is, I would normally drive the patrol car home and I would drop George off in Seaford on my way, but my shift had changed, so that night I was home and he was in the car by himself," he said Thursday. "There used to be a building here for Emory Equipment, oddly enough, so whenever I was on my way to or from work and I would see their sign, it would remind me of him. I think having a sign here to remind everyone of George, and what he gave, is long overdue."