It's an honor for me to be here on this bittersweet occasion to help celebrate the lives and contributions of these dedicated law enforcement heroes.
More than 17,000 names appear on the walls of this memorial - a roll call of those who've made the ultimate sacrifice wearing the uniforms and badges of America's law enforcement community. And on Engraving Day a month ago, we placed another 415 fallen officers alongside their brothers and sisters on this silent watch.
Amid the quiet of these etchings, however, sound the echoes of lives lived honorably, duties served nobly, and sacrifices made knowingly and willingly.
Behind each name is a story of service to others. Of risks taken so that others might be safe. Of rushing toward danger, not away from it.
Too often, these stories end as they did for the 415 brave men and women we honor this year. For them, this is our first chance as a Nation to officially say goodbye — and thank you. They are gone, but never forgotten.
Each left for a shift, or a stakeout, or a patrol as they always did: a kiss on the cheek, a hug from the kids, a call to mom, or a wave to a neighbor.
The families and loved ones of law enforcement officers know that each day brings unknown dangers. Your sacrifice is no less than the street cop or sheriff's deputy you love and support. And when this perilous job takes its ultimate toll, grieving husbands, wives, mothers and fathers continue on with each new day mindful of the legacy — and lasting memories — their loved ones left behind.
Even in our sorrow, we can celebrate that legacy tonight. It's a legacy of safer communities, lower crime, and a more secure Nation. It's a legacy of fighting for justice — person by person, block by block, city by city. It's a legacy built upon 415 examples of everyday heroism.
We will read their names tonight for all to hear — especially thousands of family members, loved ones, and law enforcement colleagues who've joined us for this collective salute. To them — and to countless others who have been touched by the efforts of these officers — I thank you for your sacrifice. We share your grief. We mourn with you. We embrace the children now missing a mommy or daddy. And tonight, we remember the stories you hold close to your hearts.
We remember the story of Rick Ulbright who died while helping to defend our freedom in Iraq. Special Agent Ulbright was in Kirkuk to administer polygraph tests during the war, when a rocket attack hit his workstation. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Outstanding Civilian Career Services Award, and the Defense of Freedom Medal. His granddaughter, Alena, was born just six weeks before he was killed. Although Alena will never know her granddaddy, she will grow up in a world graced by the freedom Special Agent Ulbright helped to provide.
We remember the story of Jennifer Fettig and Matthew Bowens. These partners in the Detroit Police Department were making a traffic stop when a suspect opened fire on their squad car. Officer Fettig, just recently engaged to a fellow D.P.D. officer, was shot twice and killed. Officer Bowens — known as "the Gazelle" by friends — didn't run from the challenge. He was shot and killed as he tried to assist his badly injured partner.
Just five days before this incident, Officer Fettig's twelve-year-old cousin e-mailed her an essay titled "My Hero" that she had written for English class. Among the sentiments we all might share for the heroic police officers in our lives, Amy Pabst wrote the following of her policewoman cousin: "She never knows what her next call might be. In my opinion, she is brave because she goes to work every day not knowing what is going to happen. My hero is my cousin... because she gets to help serve and protect the people of Detroit." Ladies and Gentlemen, none of us could've said it better.
We remember the story of John Bechtold, Jr., who died while helping at the scene of an accident. He served as the Sheriff of Campbell County, South Dakota for ten years. As I am sure he was on many occasions, Sheriff Bechtold was the first to arrive at the scene — in this case a collision between a car and a grain truck. He immediately began to administer aid, but when emergency workers arrived shortly after, Sheriff Bechtold had succumbed to a heart attack. Truly in the line of duty, his arms were still locked in the CPR maneuver position.
And we remember many others whose stories may be different, but whose sacrifices were the same as those I've mentioned. Many brought down in squad cars, at traffic stops, and while offering help after hours — above and beyond the call of duty. Many whose last acts were responding to calls for help — from citizens and fellow officers. Many who departed us while making arrests, stopping drunk drivers, assisting the needy... and even helping to find a lost dog.
They made extraordinary sacrifices while performing daily acts of heroism. With more than 4,000 years of collective service between them, the group of fallen officers we honor tonight walked beats, drove patrols, traveled to unknown lands, and confronted unkind dangers — all so their fellow citizens didn't have to.
They did it all in the line of duty. They did it all for the sake of duty.
You probably remember, just a few days after September 11th, 2001, when President Bush stood in front of the Nation and held up the police shield of George Howard. The President said it was his "reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end."
Officer Howard — a proud member of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police — died trying to save others in the World Trade Center — along with so many of his brothers and sisters from the force. Their names are here.
And tonight, these names surrounding us are another reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. We must never stop laboring in the work these officers started.
As we hold vigil to their memory — we're taking over their watch, standing guard where they once did, and accepting the mantle of a proud tradition of selfless service.
Their unique sense of commitment and devotion to duty is now ours. In their honor, we must continue to shape a future worthy of their great and noble sacrifice.
For the sake of their memory, we can.
For the sake of the loved ones they left behind, we will.
For the sake of future generations, we must.
Thank you and may God bless you, may He provide understanding and comfort to those who grieve, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.
Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund