New memorial to honor first responders killed in the line of duty

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Harry D. Blissard. Shirley Copeland. Danny Cordes. Those three names are forever a part of Mansfield history, and yet unknown to most residents. With the city’s rapid growth, many new residents have never heard of the Red Ball gas station fire in 1968 that took the lives of two firefighters, or the police officer killed in the line of duty in 1986 responding to a call. These three men gave the ultimate sacrifice for the city, and yet their names and lives were only recognized by only a few. Former City Councilwoman Wendy Burgess spearheaded a subcommittee in 2011 to address the need to recognize first responders killed in the line of duty. “The intention was to not only honor those that were lost, along with their families,” Burgess said, “but to also remind our current firefighters and police officers that we appreciate everything they do for us today and tomorrow. Their lives are important.” For Burgess, it’s an important recognition as a member of the community, but also as the wife of a law enforcement professional. “I see the emotional scars that come home with them every night that they simply don’t speak of,” she said. “Yet they wake the next morning with a smile on their face and a dedication to serve this community with honor. I see them doing great things in our community and I hope this memorial is a daily reminder to all that live in and around Mansfield of the servant’s heart these individuals exemplify. I hope it inspires our citizens to take a moment to thank these heroes for ll they have sacrificed to keep our families safe and out of harm’s way.” The Mansfield City Council approved the committee’s recommendation, and work began in May 2017 to construct the memorial, located at the front of City Hall facing Broad Street and the Public Safety Building. The new 240 square-foot memorial circle area includes a five foot tall granite center monument flanked by two four-foot tall concrete walls that curve and slope down to three foot along the edges of the circular memorial. Each wall is designated to represent either police or fire, and has a two-foot-tall, bronze engraved replica of each department’s patch. Individual plaques bearing the name of the fallen service members are attached to their respective department wall. Only three names will be unveiled when Mansfield city leaders gather on Monday, Sept. 25 for the dedication ceremony, and that’s just how they’re hoping it stays. “We all know and are appreciative for the risks that our police officers and firefighters take each and every day serving our citizens,” said City Manager Clayton Chandler. “This monument recognizes and honors our public safety officers. It also recognizes three members who made the ultimate contribution while serving our citizens. We hope and pray that no other names will be added to these walls. For the families of these individuals whose contributions are to be forever remembered, we offer our grateful appreciation for their service, and their sacrifice.” Those three names are etched in stone today but have been etched in the memories of their friends and loved ones for the decades that have passed since tragedy struck. And now, finally, etched in Mansfield history for all to see and remember forever. “It is appropriate that we, as a community, acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice of our public safety officers,” said Mayor David Cook. “For generations to come, Mansfield residents will visit this Memorial Plaza out of respect and appreciation for the service these men and women provide every day.”

Harry D. Blissard & Shirley Copeland, Mansfield Fire Department

Mansfield’s Fire Department was composed entirely of volunteers in 1968, men gladly giving their own time to help protect the community. On July 31, 1968, two members of the department gave their lives volunteering in service to the city. The Mansfield Fire Department was responding to a small fire at the Red Ball Gas House gas station on Highway 287, about a mile south of Kennedale, when a gasoline tank truck on site exploded. The blast lifted the 6,000-gallon storage tank 30 feet in the air, spun it end over end and dropped it on a large trailer house next to the station. The trailer was destroyed, but no one was in it at the time of the explosion. A 200-yard radius around the station was blackened by the scorching flames, and surrounding telephone wires were destroyed in the explosion, hampering calls for help. More than half of the department was severely burned in the explosion, and much of their equipment was lost. A total of 28 people were injured that day, and three people died; local TV news reporter Steve Pieringer and two of Mansfield’s finest, Harry D. Blissard and Shirley Copeland. Harry D. Blissard was only 41 years old at the time of his death, serving as the assistant Tarrant County Fire Marshal and Chief of the Mansfield Volunteer Fire Department. A member since 1956, Blissard was credited with much of the department’s recent growth and proficiency, including their award as Tarrant County Fire Department of the Year in 1964. Born and raised in Mansfield, Blissard had taken over his father’s business, Mansfield Cleaners, after he passed away. He served in the Navy after graduating from Mansfield High School, fighting in the South Pacific and at Iwo Jima. Chief Blissard left behind two children and a community in mourning. “We just don’t know where we are going to find the three men it would take to replace him,” said Ira Gibson, longtime Mansfield resident, in a story by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Aug. 2, 1968. “He was an inspiration to the fire department but also to the whole community,” Fire Captain J.T. Spears said in the same article. “Everybody lost something here.” Shirley Clyde Copeland, 45, died at Parkland Memorial Hospital three days after the fire. He had been an active member of the volunteer fire department for eight years, and worked as a meter inspector for the City of Fort Worth. He was survived by his wife and three children. He was described by fellow firefighters as devoted to serving the community, and “one of the gentlemen of the department.” Like Chief Blissard, he was carried to the cemetery on MFD Pumper Number 1, draped in flowers and flags.

Danny Cordes, Mansfield Police Department

“He loved motorcycles, and he loved being a police officer,” said widow Linda Cordes. “He was so proud to be Mansfield’s motorcycle officer; it was his dream.” Danny’s dream brought their family from Oklahoma to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, working as a police officer in four other municipalities before coming to Mansfield in 1976. The 45-year-old officer was killed on May 23, 1986, in a hit-and-run accident on East Broad Street. While on his motorcycle en route to a service call, Cordes was hit by a trailer that detached from a pickup truck. The driver, who fled the scene, was later determined to be an escaped prisoner from Missouri with ties to the Mansfield area. Warrants were issued but he was never captured. Officer Cordes was a 21-year law enforcement veteran who left behind a wife, two children, and an admiring community. “He was always such a joy to be around,” Mrs. Cordes said. “He was just a friendly, down-to-earth guy that everyone wanted to be around.” That sentiment was repeated over and over in various interviews over the years; at his funeral, Police Chief Mike Leyman called Cordes an “outstanding one-man, P.R department.” More than 1,200 people attended his funeral, which included a police procession that stretched for three miles. His family remained in Mansfield, and is honored the city is remembering him with this new memorial. “Our family is really happy to have the city recognize him,” Mrs. Cordes said. “I think Danny would be so proud to show everyone that dreams can come true. He accomplished exactly what he always wanted to do and that’s something to be proud of.”

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