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Columns : Editorial

Hallowed Ground

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is everything that a shrine should be.

June 11, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of NLEOMF.

Washington, D.C. is a city of museums and memorials. Where other cities have skylines topped by the headquarters of Fortune 100 companies, D.C. has the Washington Monument. Where other cities have parks, D.C. has the Capitol Mall. Where most cities have one or two decent museums, D.C. is a place where you can't throw a rock without hitting the museum of something.

And then there are the war memorials, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the new World War II Memorial. Every day these shrines to valiant American warriors swarm with tourists and field-tripping school children.

Not far away is a much less-visited shrine to fallen American warriors who gave their lives to protect our values and our peace. Theirs is the war to end all wars, the one between good and evil that's been waging since Cain slew Abel and will still be fought long after we are all gone. And their shrine is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is a peaceful plaza fronted by the National Building Museum. As memorials go, it is elegant and simple and beautiful, everything a great memorial should be. Here the birds sing, the insects buzz, the water from the reflecting pool trickles, and the sun beats down on white marble walls where workers have painstakingly carved the names of 19,000 heroes.

Some 51 weeks of the year not much happens here. The occasional visitor walks through checking out the place, the Park Service crews and others come and maintain the grounds, and the Capitol City traffic grinds by.

But each May this place is the site of a holy pilgrimage. That's when more than 20,000 police officers, police survivors, and grateful citizens come to this place to pay their respects to the fallen in ceremonies surrounding National Police Week.

During National Police Week, the Memorial becomes an emotional focal point for all of the loss felt by the surviving spouses, children, and friends of officers who have died in the line of duty. They come here to remember their loved ones and they leave behind tokens of their love. Visitors to the Memorial during Police Week see wreaths, flowers (especially blue silk roses), agency patches, photos, and other mementos. They may even see a child's crayon drawing affixed to the wall and bearing the heartfelt message: "We miss you, Daddy."

And those visitors will see the new names. Each year the staff of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) assembles a list of new officers to add to the wall. Some are more than 100 years old, some were killed the year before. This year, the wall received 334 new names, 116 of them from 2009.

The names are carved into the marble in the weeks before Police Week. And they are read aloud the night of the vigil.

If you haven't attended the Candlelight Vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, then you have missed a truly stirring experience. This year's vigil was held May 13, and they say more than 20,000 people lit candles and prayed for the fallen. I can't confirm or deny that number. But I can tell you that the sight of thousands of candles in the darkness of the memorial plaza and the surrounding streets is beautiful, mournful, and powerful in ways that I cannot even begin to describe.

One of the speakers at this year's vigil was Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. In her speech she referenced Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, a speech he gave to open a cemetery for Union war dead in that ravaged Pennsylvania town. Her words seemed a little trite to some in attendance, but I think I understand the inspiration for her speech, and she meant well.

For like Arlington National Cemetery, or Gettysburg, the war memorials on the Capitol Mall, or any other place where brave Americans are honored for giving what Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion," the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is indeed hallowed ground.

In this issue, you will find the story of a National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Officer of the Month. POLICE will be featuring these tales of extraordinary police officers in each issue the rest of this year.

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