This year, I was invited to give the keynote speech for a Police Memorial service to be held at Cherokee Dam, a facility of the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was my 20th year attending such a service and I've watched it grow more important to those in law enforcement every year. And it should because the list of fallen officers keeps growing.
Not many years ago, Cherokee Dam was in a totally rural area of East Tennessee, but the urban sprawl has crept right up to the boundaries of the surrounding park. I met with a group of officers a few miles away in Jefferson City and we formed a convoy that stretched a good mile from one end to another. It was an impressive sight to see all those blue lights flashing.
There were officers from numerous sheriff's departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol several surrounding cities, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, as well as TVA police officers. TVA is a federal agency that was formed during the Great Depression and produces all the power in this
state and parts of Alabama, with dams, fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. The officers of that agency are federal officers, similar to rangers of the park service, but they work hand-in-glove with local agencies.
At the entrance to the Cherokee Dam Park, two mounted officers of the TVA Police were waiting to lead the parade on the last stretch to the site of the memorial service. Picnickers and joggers watched with curiosity as we went by.
On the way to the dam, many civilian cars had pulled to the side of the road as our caravan passed, apparently thinking it was a funeral procession. That's still done in Tennessee as a sign of respect, though it is no longer required and police discourage it. Bringing traffic to a halt in a modern city not the same as it was the days of old when our population was sparse.
As we stopped our cars for the short walk to the covered shed, my wife Cheryl said: "I'd better take some Kleenex for both of us, they have a bugle and bagpipes, too." She moved off with other police family members and I fell into the procession of officers walking two by two.
Though the walk was relatively short, the last stretch was uphill. Because of my heart condition, the hill was difficult for me. I was determined not to fall out and I didn't. By the time we arrived at the shed, however, I was fighting hard to get my breath, trying not to be obvious about it. I had thought my speech would be last on the agenda but I was introduced almost immediately.
By taking my time walking to the podium, then shuffling my notes for a few moments, I bought a few more seconds. By the time I started my speech, only my wife could tell that my breathing was labored.
I don't write speeches in advance so I couldn't tell you exactly what I said. But I talked about duty and honor and used Harry Truman's often quoted favorite phrase, "The buck stops here." And the buck does stop with police officers. When police officers arrive on the scene, they don't have that security and luxury that civilians have when danger threatens. Cops can't pass the responsibility on to some else because there is nobody else.
Men and women in uniform are the real thing, the last barricade -- truly a thin blue line standing between society and chaos.
And my wife was right about the need for Kleenex. I got through the bagpipes but when taps was played on the bugle, my tears began to flow as freely as the blood of the fallen officers we had come out to honor.
David Hunter is a retired detective and the author of several books. His e-mail address is: email@example.com