Patrolman Vernon Fortin
Vernon Fortin was born on December 16, 1898, to Napoleon S. Fortin and Effie F.E. Fortin in Mount Vernon, WA. Fortin and his four brothers, Clement, Joseph, Michael and Frank, were raised on the family farm in Skagit Valley and attended school in Mount Vernon.
At just 17-years-old, 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. Fortin was first stationed at Camp Murray, in Washington, was then transferred to Camp Mills in New York. The United States joined allied forces in World War I on April 6, 1917, and Fortin was sent overseas to France and Germany. Fortin served in the regions of Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, Saint-Michel, 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.
On March 18, 1922, Patrolman Fortin was commissioned with the newly formed Washington State Highway Patrol (WSHP) 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 enroute 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 WSHP. Patrolman Fortin was the first to die in the line of duty for the WSHP.
Shortly after Patrolman Fortin died, his widow, Jen Pecheur, and their children moved to France. Five years later, they moved back to the Mount Vernon area, where she taught French, and their children learned to speak English again. Jen met Edward Crandall a few years later and they married.
Patrolman Fortin’s daughter, Marcelle Gorman passed away in 2022 at 101 years old. Marcelle was just three-years-old, and her brother, Paul, was only two-years-old at the time of their father’s death. Marcelle’s two surviving children, Catherine and Daniel, live in the New Jersey area. Marcelle’s brother, Paul, passed away in 2003.
Patrolman 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.
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.
On May 5, 2023, we attended the State of Washington Peace Officers Memorial - Law Enforcement Medal of Honor Ceremony in Olympia.
Patrolman Vernon Fortin received a Medal of Honor posthumously for his service. His great, great niece, Kelli Otis, accepted the award on behalf of the family. This year marks the 100th Anniversary of his line of duty death.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to law enforcement officers who, while in the performance of their duties as law enforcement officers have been killed, seriously injured, or distinguished themselves by exceptional meritorious conduct. These officers must be nominated by the chief law enforcement officers of the agencies that employ them.
A commemorative wreath was placed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. on May 12, 2023 for Patrolman Vernon Fortin. Patrolman Fortin died in the line of duty on September 30, 1923. This year is the 100th Anniversary of his line of duty death.
Gone but never forgotten.