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State DEC to honor game warden killed in line of duty in 1929

Game Protector William T. Cramer, of Ridgewood, Queens,

Game Protector William T. Cramer, of Ridgewood, Queens, was shot and killed by poachers in 1929.

In 1922, Game Protector William T. Cramer was shot three times by poachers in Queens.

He not only survived, but returned to work as one of the state's few environmental enforcers before a second set of poachers shot and killed him seven years later.

On Monday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation plans to hold a ceremony on Long Island honoring Cramer -- one of a handful of line-of-duty deaths in the history of the environmental agency's police force.

Cramer, who lived in Ridgewood and patrolled then-rural Queens County, was added in May to the state Police Officer's Memorial in Albany.

That, coupled with Monday's ceremony at his grave in Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn, means Cramer is getting the recognition he deserves, said Maj. Timothy Huss of the DEC's Division of Law Enforcement.

"His dedication speaks volumes," he said.

Huss organized the ceremony, which will include the DEC's Pipe and Drum Corps and honor guard, after digging into the history of his agency's policing arm.

Before the DEC's modern-day detectives and environmental-conservation officers -- all full police officers with specialized knowledge of environmental laws and crimes -- there were game protectors. The unit was created in 1880 by Gov. Alonzo B. Cornell to protect the state's flora and fauna.

"These guys, they're the predecessors of what we are today," Huss said. "Game laws were new, and a lot of the public -- especially the backwoods guys -- they didn't really appreciate police. It was a tough job."

When Gov. Theodore Roosevelt in 1899 called for "men of courage, resolution and hardihood" to become game protectors, he might well have had a man like Cramer in mind.

Cramer had been on the force for five years in 1922 when he encountered two men poaching songbirds in the woods near Jamaica Bay.

As he confronted them, one smashed Cramer's head with a shotgun, then shot him three times in the back of the head and the neck, according to a report to the New York State Legislature.

Still, Cramer managed to draw his own weapon and return fire, wounding both men. One died while awaiting trial, while the other was convicted and received 5 years in prison.

In 1929, Cramer -- still with the force, and again on patrol near what is now Kennedy Airport, encountered bird poachers.

This time, the 42-year-old game protector wasn't so lucky. As Cramer and his partner arrested one of the men, the other opened fire, fatally shooting Cramer in the face, the report said.

Growing up, Jo-Ann Errico always heard stories about how Cramer, her great-uncle, had died in the line of duty. She plans to be at the ceremony Monday with her husband and two sons.

"I think it's great," said Errico, of Sound Beach. "After all these years, I was like, wow -- it's a long, long time."

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