Visiting the Wall
Sgt. Smith –
My husband and I travel a lot for business, and one of the benefits of business travel is all those frequent flyer miles and hotel points. As we were looking at all the free plane tickets and hotel stays we’ve accumulated over the past year, my husband suggested we use some of them to take our youngest daughter to Washington, D.C., in the fall. She’ll be 14 by then and hasn’t been to our nation’s capital since the D.A.R.E. conference I took her to when she was 5. What a great opportunity to further her education and spend a little quality family time together during a vacation that doesn’t involve scary rides that make me nauseous! We booked our travel and then, control freak that I am, I started to meticulously plan out our four days in D.C.
My first stop was the book store. I grabbed a stack of Washington, D.C., travel guides and sat down to decide which one was the most comprehensive before making my purchase. I looked at Washington, D.C. for Dummies, Frommer’s Washington, D.C. 2008, The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., and The Everything Family Guide to Washington, D.C. — to name just a few. I thumbed through each one and then went right to the back index to find out what each one had to say about the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. After all, I’m excited to show my daughter “our wall” now that she’s old enough to appreciate it, and I was curious to read the glowing write-ups in each of the travel guides.
I imagined our family walking past the reflection pool before entering the pathways of remembrance. I look forward to explaining to my daughter the purpose of the lion statues and the engraved Bible verse "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are as bold as a lion." I want her to see the rose over the shield and touch the words “In Valor There is Hope,” and then see the amazing tribute to the more than 18,000 law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate price while serving their communities; all those names, all those departments, all those heroes. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is one of the most moving, most beautiful sites in all of D.C., so I knew each travel book would surely dedicate several pages to it…wouldn’t they?
I looked under “memorials.” I looked under “walls,” “parks,” “tributes,” “museums,” “police officers,” and even “cops.” Nothing. No reference, no mention, no map, no address, NOTHING. I could find every art gallery, obscure museum, local park, suggested fast food dining, and oh yeah, how to call the local police to report a crime, but no mention of how to even find the memorial built entirely with donated money that honors those officers who responded to those calls for help and died doing their job. I only found one book, Washington, D.C., with Kids, that even mentions the Memorial, in three short lines.
I left the bookstore really disturbed and more than a little angry. Is this how we honor our fallen? Is it politically incorrect in the travel business to mention dead cops? Aren’t visitors to our nation’s capital at least interested in learning about Isaac Smith, the first known peace officer killed in the line of duty, or Annie Hart, the first female officer killed in the line of duty? Aren’t they curious about the officers killed by such notorious criminals as “Billy the Kid,” John Dillinger and “Baby Face Nelson?” Don’t they want to pay tribute to the deadliest day in law enforcement history, September 11, 2001, when this country lost 72 crimefighters, or maybe say a prayer for the Schroeder brothers, who both lost their lives serving with the Boston Police Department, leaving behind a total of 13 fatherless children? Am I so out of touch with American society that I am mistaken in my belief that people in general care about what happens to us?
And then it hit me … whose job is it to honor our fallen? How do we do it? What can we do, as cops, as trainers, as citizens do to make sure no one forgets? Locally, we can check in with the families of our fallen officers, whether it’s been a year or 30 years. Let them know they are not forgotten, nor is their sacrifice. On a larger scale we can support efforts like the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Web sites like the Officer Down Memorial Page. And we need to keep talking about our history, and what we continue to learn from those who have gone before us. The Newhall Incident, the Onion Field, the Miami FBI Shootout, and so many more.
So when my husband and I take our daughter to see the memorial, we’ll look up names like Officers Alleyn, Pence, Gore and Frago of the California Highway Patrol, LAPD’s Officer Ian Campbell, and FBI Agents Dove and Grogan. I’ll touch those engraved names of heroes who have touched me, like Kyle Dinkeller, Julie Jacks, Mark Coates, Randy Vetter, and Vicky Armel. I’ll remember the lessons and their sacrifice, and I’ll pass them on, to my daughter, to my co-workers, to my students, and to you…it’s something we all have to do. And I’ll remember the words, engraved on the memorial, as spoken by Vivian Eney: "It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it’s how they lived.”