As National Police Week gets underway next week, we take some time to think about fallen officers even more that we do during the rest of the year. In my career, I attended many law enforcement funerals — more than I wanted to, and fewer than I should have.
Many civilians question why so many officers attend another officer's funeral — they seem to not understand why officers go to pay their respects to someone they didn’t know. Some civilians might be pessimistic and think it is just to attend a big party following the funeral. Others might believe it is just to obtain a day off from work. Both ideas are incorrect.
Hell, there are probably some officers as well who don’t fully understand why they have to be there — they just somehow, somewhere, deep down in their hearts know it is the proper thing to do.
The History of the Arlington Ladies
Recently I was watching a program on The History Channel about Arlington National Cemetery. The documentary took the time to visit and explain many of the special memorials and monuments within the hallowed grounds. The show gave a list of requirements that must be met in order to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
It also told of the hierarchy of entitlements, as well as the significance, of the many rituals and ceremonies that are performed. For example, the riderless horse and the artillery caisson are reserved for military officers, but the survivors of every buried veteran receive an American flag, folded in a triangle. This represents the tri-cornered hat of our patriotic Revolutionary War soldiers. It does not matter how big or small the funeral. Nor is it important whether the veteran is being carried in a casket or placed in an urn. Each deceased veteran receives a full honor guard — something to which he is entitled.
Another special part of the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery was explained in a rather sad but poignant way; at a funeral, one man in a suit stood alone at a grave site. There were four empty chairs behind him. The honor guard member presented him with the folded American Flag and thanked him on behalf of our country. From the corner of the television screen, came another gentleman escorting a woman. He presented her to the survivor. The woman was one of the “Arlington Ladies.”
Each funeral at Arlington is attended by an Arlington Lady. They pay their respects to the bereaved, and give a handwritten note of condolence to the family. They attend the funeral and pay their respects even if the veteran has no family or friends in attendance.
There are 150 of these special women. They are wives, widows, and mothers of military personnel. The organization was started in 1972, at the request of General Creighton Abrams. The general was passing a funeral in progress and saw that nobody was in attendance but the honor guard.
General Abrams was upset. He vowed from that day on, no veteran ever again would go to his grave alone in Arlington. That is why the Arlington Ladies were organized. The Arlington Ladies are special people who should be honored and cherished for what they do — they pay final homage to our fallen veterans.
We Don’t Have Arlington Ladies
These special ladies make it easy to see why so many law enforcement officers attend a fallen comrade's funeral. Law enforcement does not have Arlington Ladies — law enforcement officers have their families and each other.
Members of the law enforcement community will not let a fellow officer go alone to his final resting place. Law enforcement officers look after their own until the end.
Maybe if the American public took the time, they could learn how important honor and respect really are, from their law enforcement officers. Maybe if the public had the same sense of courtesy and respect that law enforcement officers do, there no longer would be a need for the Arlington Ladies.