National Peace Officers Week, by Donald Fredericks
Some things in our personal and professional lives are meant to be experienced with a sense of loss, respect, honor and pride. Washington, DC can be considered the bleeding heart of America as it has more memorials than any other city in the United States of America.
One such memorial has very special meaning to professional peace officers and for those who gave their lives in the line of civil duty to serve and protect. I am speaking of our fallen Peace Officers brothers. During one selected week of May 15th each year our country celebrates National Police Week. I was proud to be one of thousands of participants at this year’s week of remembrances.
On the historic side here is how it began. While countless stories can be told of olden time Sheriffs, Texas Rangers, and others who served and protected their communities and often gave up their lives in the line of duty (street gunfights); only true crime pocket tabloids embellished these brave soles. It was not until Public Law 87-726, was signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and amended by the 103rd Congress as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.
President Bill Clinton signed Public Law 103-322 which directs that the flag of the United States on all Government buildings be displayed at half-staff on May 15; National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day did we really remember our own. In October of 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the legislation which allowed the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to begin raising money for an appropriate monument in Washington, DC, honoring the fallen law enforcement officers of America.
The first National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day Service was held in Washington,
DC, on May 15, 1982, on Capitol Hill in the small “Senate Park”.
Only 125 people attended. Then Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) National
President Leo Marchetti vowed the FOP’s support in increasing attendance at this activity each year and it continues to grow today. In 1989, the first annual Candlelight Vigil was held at the site of the soon-to-be constructed National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Judiciary Square. In October 1991, the Memorial was dedicated by President George Bush. Today the wall carries the names of over 17,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
An estimated 20,000 peace officer and family members came by car, airplane, bus, and Amtrak to attend the functions. The Blue Knights arrived proudly on their motorcycles, while more than 1,000 police officers bicycled into the nation’s capitol on Saturday afternoon, after having traveled hundreds of miles toRide for Those Who Died in the 11th annual Police Unity Tour and to raise money for a new National Law Enforcement Museum (approved by congress with authorizing legislation in 2000) expected to open in a few years. Dozens of pipe bands and honor guards arrived in full dress uniforms. 145 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year, the lowest total since 1999 when 143 fatalities occurred. All of their names were officially added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at the candlelight vigil on May 13, 2007. Those names were added along with 237 newly discovered line-of-duty deaths from earlier years, bringing the total to 17,917 names on the Memorial walls.
A moving experience for me was the attendance of a wreath laying ceremony for yet another addition to the wall. Here the bag pipes echoed their mournful cry as the too well practiced honor guard performed their ceremonial task. With so many in attendances it was impossible to search the walls for all of our fellow Correctional Peace Officers who died in the line-of-duty working the Toughest Beat in the State with us. With each one I did find I left a 50 year pin and took a photo. That is until my batteries went dead from taking so many previous photos. It was comforting just to know we are accepted and remembered there.
While most peace officers have never personally known an officer who through little choice of their own, gave their all, I personally knew to friends I worked with daily who answered the call. I still remember how I felt when I first heard they lost their lives in the line of duty. I also remember the full emotional turmoil times as those on duty moved to control the inmates and the institution. Their funerals were draining for all who could and attend and frustrating to those who still had to work. I have also attended the funerals of many other over the years and the loss and emotions are little different. Here at this memorial wall, in our countries capitol, my emotions and tears were the same.
While our president, George W. Bush, often has problems with his speeches, his Tuesday’s White House address to our attending peace officers, said all the right things to let us know he was with us in our losses. What comfort those in attendance came away with.
Just a couple of blocks away you will find the Memorial Visitors Center with more than 30 impressive exhibits and the history of the wall. The Visitors Center gift shop has a wide variety of special commemorative items. You are sure to find some remembrances for every trip home.
You do not need to visit the memorial wall during the National Police Week programs. Just make sure when you do get to Washington, DC to visit the wall for your own moving experience. Back to Memorials