Delaware's entire congressional contingent posthumously honored fallen New Castle County Police Lt. Joseph L. Szczerba with the Congressional Badge of Bravery during a solemn ceremony held Monday morning at the NCC0 Cpl. Paul J. Sweeney Public Safety Building off U.S. Route 13 in New Castle Hundred.
It was the first Congressional Badge of Bravery bestowed upon a Delawarean.
Szczerba was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 16, 2011 after he responded to a call about a man suspected of stealing cars. A victim had detained the man and had been stabbed several times. Szczerba, a sergeant at the time, chased the man on foot and was stabbed several times after he apprehended the suspect.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) expressed astonishment at how Szczerba held onto the man who inflicted the fatal wound upon him until backup from New Castle County Police arrived to help him apprehend the man.
"My God, that's extraordinary courage," he said. "That's the kind of bravery you only see in the movies."
Carper, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) then presented the congressional badge to Szczerba's widow, Kathy Szczerba.
Kathy Szczerba thanked the congressional delegation and county officials for all they had done for her husband.
U.S. Attorney for Delaware Charles Oberle recalled somberly how New Castle County Police Lt. Joseph Szczerba' response to a routine call was a sober reminder that police officers put their lives on the line each day of their career.
Also making brief remarks at the Monday ceremony were Coons, Carney, New Castle County Police Chief Col. Elmer Setting and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.
Setting said Szczerba was a hero everyday on the job, not just for his heroic acts on the night of his death.
New Castle County Councilman Bill Bell (D-Middletown), the Public Safety Committee chairman, wiped away tears at the end of the ceremony. He said he agreed 100 percent with Setting.
"Lieutenant Szczerba was a wonderful person," Bell said. "He was an outstanding public servant. Lieutenant Szczerba was a hero every day that he served on our county police department. He cared and served others."
Congress passed the Congressional Badge of Bravery Act in 2008 to honor law enforcement officer acts of bravery. Former NCCo Police Chief Colonel Mike McGowan directed Major Robert Becker to posthumously nominate Lt. Szczerba for a 2011 Congressional Badge of Bravery.
New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, who was out of the country, released a statement through his staff on Szczerba's posthumous honor. Gordon said he hired Szczerba in 1994 when he was the NCCo chief of police.
"We honor Lt. Joe Szczerba, a fallen member of our great New Castle County Police Department" Gordon said. "Today the rest of the nation knows what we all have known. Joe is a true hero. It is tragic to lose an officer, but Joe's spirit lives on. He will be an inspiration to all future generations of our officers as they enter the Police Academy named in Lt. Szczerba's honor."
Page 2 of 2 - The New Castle County Police Academy, where Szczerba spent much of his time training new officers, was renamed the Lt. Joseph L. Szczerba Police Academy on Sept. 16, 2012.