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Military veteran who died in line of duty as Kentucky Conservation Officer is formally recognized

A military veteran who died in the line of duty as a Kentucky Conservation Officer was formally recognized Thursday in Frankfort with a monument at the permanent memorial honoring Kentucky’s fallen conservation officers.

Bernard Dean Ratliff served as a wildlife and water patrol officer with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for more than a decade until his death in June 1999. Ratliff suffered a heart attack while participating in agency-approved physical training.

“Dean was the best man I know,” Karen Ratliff said of her late husband. “He was a great father. He was very active in lots of different things. Of course, he loved Fish and Wildlife. Loved his job, absolutely. An officer through and through. He was very involved with our children – everything they did, every activity. Loved to play basketball. He refereed basketball. He was funny. He was a hoot. He could tell really good stories.

“He’s been sorely missed. Never forgotten.”

Ratliff is the seventh Kentucky Conservation Officer to have a monument erected in his honor at the Fallen Officers Memorial on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s campus near the entrance to the Salato Wildlife Education Center.

Relatives and state officials joined representatives from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the Kentucky Conservation Officers’ Association on Thursday to remember Ratliff and fellow fallen conservation officers Elijah Roberts, James R. Claxton, John C. Martin, Denver Tabor, Robert C. Banker and Douglas W. Bryant.

Seven stone tablets etched with likenesses of each conservation officer who has died in the line of duty since 1918 rest on stone pedestals lining the brick pathway leading to a bronze statue of a saluting conservation officer.

“This is an honor that Officer Ratliff and his family deserve, and it was overdue,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm said. “We are forever grateful for his service to the Commonwealth and the service of all of our fallen officers. Our thoughts remain with their families.”

Ratliff was born in Pike County and graduated from Eastern Kentucky University. Before joining Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, he worked for the Richmond Police Department. Ratliff served the Commonwealth in those roles but also served the country during the Vietnam War and Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm. He amassed 21 years of service with the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.

Ratliff was 51 years old when he died. At the time, his wife was 43 with two young daughters. They attended Thursday’s ceremony.

“I know after Dean died, I cried for a whole year straight,” Karen Ratliff said. “It’s been 20 years. I’ve been thinking about this, and right now I’m about ready to cry. It’s such an honor.”

Kentucky’s conservation officers are sworn law enforcement officers with statewide jurisdiction but a primary mission focus on hunting, fishing and boating enforcement. In their everyday role, conservation officers ensure compliance with hunting and fishing laws and ensure that the state’s waterways are a safe place for all to enjoy by utilizing a two-pronged approach consisting of education and enforcement.

Thursday’s ceremony featured remarks by Storm, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Don Parkinson and Conservation Officer Rodney Milburn, president of the Kentucky Conservation Officers’ Association.

“Kentucky Conservation Officers have a great duty and carry much responsibility, as do all law enforcement personnel across the Commonwealth and nation,” Parkinson said. “We appreciate their service and will never forget those who lost their lives in the line of duty.”

From Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

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