Patrolman Vernon Fortin
The Washington State Patrol’s first fallen officer dedicated his young life to service. Highway Patrolman Vernon George Fortin, 24, was the product of a hard-working farming family born on December 16, 1898, to Napoleon S. Fortin and Effie F.E. Fortin in Mount Vernon, WA. Raised on the family farm, Fortin and his four brothers, Clement, Joseph, Michael and Frank, grew up in the Skagit Valley and attended school in Mount Vernon.
At just 17, Fortin joined the U.S. Army on May 16, 1916, as a private in Company C, 3rd Army M.P. Battalion in the midst of World War I. First stationed at Camp Murray, WA, Fortin was later transferred to Camp Mills in New York. The United States joined allied forces in World War I on April 6, 1917, and Fortin deployed overseas to France and Germany. Fortin served in the regions of Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel and Argonne in France during his 20 months of duty overseas.
Fortin met his future wife, Jeanne Marie, during his tour. The couple married in Coblenz, Germany on July 14, 1919. The pair returned to the United States where Fortin mustered out at Camp Hoboken in New Jersey on August 15, 1919. The Fortins returned to the Skagit Valley and had two children: a daughter, Marcelle, and son, Paul.
Fortin’s need to serve did not end with his discharge from the military. On March 18, 1922, he was commissioned with the newly formed Washington State Highway Patrol and assigned to Whatcom and Skagit counties.
Patrolman Vernon Fortin died on September 30, 1923, at the age of 25. Patrolman Fortin was injured when his motorcycle collided with another patrolman’s motorcycle while they were en route to the Lynden fair for traffic duty. Patrolman Fortin died five days later from his injuries. At the time of his death, Patrolman Fortin had served 18 months with the Washington State Patrol. Patrolman Fortin was the first WSP trooper to die in the line of duty.
Shortly after Patrolman Fortin died, Patrolman Fortin’s widow, Jen Pecheur, moved their children, Marcelle and Paul, back to France for five years. When they moved back to the Mt. Vernon area, she taught French, and the children learned how to speak English again. Jen met Edward Crandall a few years later and they married.
Marcelle Gorman celebrated her 100th birthday on September 3rd. She was three years old and her brother, Paul, was only two years old at the time of their father’s death. Marcelle lives in the New Jersey area, near her two remaining children, Catherine and Daniel. Marcelle’s brother, Paul, passed away in 2003.
Trooper Fortin had four brothers: Clement, Joseph, Michael and Frank. Clement passed away in 1953. His only child, Mildred Rindal, passed in 2018, at the age of 84. Mildred's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all reside in Mount Vernon. Joseph passed away in 1970, leaving behind one daughter, Bonnie, who passed in 2004. Michael and Frank were twins. Frank passed away in infancy. Michael passed away in 1960, leaving behind no children.
His daughter, Marcelle, visited the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. for the first time to honor her father in 2017.
Please take a moment to remember Trooper Vernon Fortin and his family.
December 1922 – The first known photo of the Washington Highway Patrol. The agency would not have uniforms until 1924.The photo includes Fortin (back row – third from right) as well as Orin Leidy (far right) the agency’s second supervisor, and L.D. McArdle (front row -far right) who directed thestate’s Department of Efficiency. DOE oversaw operations until 1933 when after depression-era protests in Olympia, the agency was granted full law enforcement powers, came under the direct supervision of the Governor, and changed its name to the Washington State Patrol.
The Washington State Patrol will always remember Highway Patrolman Vernon Fortin. His sacrifice would be the first of 30 during the agency’s 100 years of service to the state of Washington. Though the agency’s name and uniforms, as well as officer ranks and titles changed through the years, the Fortin name and the photo of him smiling astride his Indian Motorcycle are iconic symbols of the service and sacrifice that have become hallmarks of the organization. We will not forget him.