Every time I go to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall I am struck by the power of a name.
My first impression when I visit the wall is the immensity of it, and the vast number of names written upon it; how will I ever find my friends? Thankfully, there is a handy reference book that tells you where each name is located. So you go to the book, open it, and look up your agency; and suddenly you're confronted by names you weren't thinking about at all, and they are instantly thrust into your consciousness.
McNeff, man you flew in that terrible storm to help in that medical emergency. Thank you for trying.
Gabrielli, my Vietnam War veteran poet friend, your tragic verse on the sorrow of battle still haunts me. You were killed at a stupid accident scene as your lovely new wife was riding along; such sadness in a hero's life.
Who's this? Oh yeah, Garcia! Fun-loving, hardworking cadet in the academy, your intelligence and wit would have carried you far; you would have been a good sergeant. But you were killed when your Mustang flipped. I still see you laughing at one of your own jokes during my DT class; I couldn't be mad because you were so damned funny.
Skip? Yes, yes, I remember the day I got the call you had been killed in a fiery crash. You were so strong and dynamic; we had that fun argument when you taught us traffic code in the academy. I smile, a relief for a second from the sorrow.
Speaking of the academy, there is Blazer: sharp kid, made sergeant right away (I knew he would); great work ethic and keen mind; killed with Dave that terrible night. I remember that call, too, fresh as yesterday; two friends killed in a tragic instant.
Oh man; I look away from this book for a second. My eyes need to clear, my heart needs to slow. My daughter is watching me; I act as if the wind is bothering my vision. I look back at the book; oh so many names. So many more from just my agency, and the book is so damned thick, so full of lives lost in our service.
I get refocused and, with my wife, the Sarge—who has a list of her own names to find—take our daughter from location to location to allow her to get tracings of the names. I'm so glad I didn't do this alone.
As my daughter creates art from a friend's name, I look around at the wall and admire its power and meaning. So many names of so many heroes, a concrete manifestation of the cost of a civil society, the price of freedom, and a powerful message to those who serve and protect: they will not be forgotten should they fall.
And while my sadness aches, I am strengthened by the memories. I think to myself, This is why we make such a monument: to heal us, to strengthen us, to remind us that freedom is only as strong as the individuals willing to fight for it.
It is right and fitting that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall memorializes a great panel of individuals who have shed their blood, and given up their dreams and futures, for all of us. A free society owes it to such heroes that we regularly reflect on their lives and deaths: men and women of courage, and love, and sorrow, and friends and family, people just like us, who have made the extraordinary sacrifice of their own lives for their communities.
While I no longer put on a badge and gun, and my service is limited to writing and teaching, I still have dreams at night of driving fast and serving warrants; and in those dreams my friends and I are young and agile again. Sometimes my unconscious mind brings back those who are long gone, or places friends in the wrong agency; dreams are what they are, but I think trips to places like the Wall prevent a lot of them from being nightmares.
Names remind us, sadden us, inspire us, make us laugh and make us cry, and most of all, make us remember.
It has been a couple of years since I went to the Wall, and I think this year I will go again and walk up to that book, open it, and thank God that such men and women have lived and served.
I pray that we never forget their names.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.