For those of you who attended National Police Week, you can stop reading and turn the page. You know what I’m about to write.
For those of you who have been in this profession for 10 minutes or 10 years and haven’t made it to Police Week yet, you owe yourself a trip to Washington D.C. next May. I promise, you will not regret it. If it somehow does not have a profound and moving effect on your life, you may want to move on to another profession.
The visit to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is just not the same in August or October as it is in the middle of May. I try and visit whenever I am in D.C. Unfortunately, for 11 months of the year, it can be just a shortcut from E Street NW to F Street NW or easy access to the Judiciary Square Metro Station.
It’s not any fault of the Memorial, but for 11 other months, it just seems to blend with the more than 160 other monuments and memorials around Washington D.C. None of the visitor tours have ever put it on the schedule and only the rare taxi driver even knows where it is. For 11 other months, it is simply another granite memorial with the names of more than 20,000 heroes engraved on the wall.
But in May, something very special happens. And that is when you need to be there because that is when the Memorial comes alive. That is when you see the pictures, the personal messages, the memorials, the plaques, and the mementos that family members or fellow officers have placed where their loved ones’ names are inscribed. Sometimes, even entire car doors.
And shortly later come the survivors – the spouses, the sons and daughters, the parents, the relatives and the co-workers. They come from all corners of the country. And on one special day, I suspect it becomes the most visited Memorial in all of Washington D.C with the arrival of the Police Unity Tour. Often leading the ride are the survivors, some of whom return year after year. I suspect it doesn’t become any less emotional for them. The Memorial crowds don’t die down after the Tour arrives and continue for days. Law enforcement officers from around the world can be found there because they don’t have a Memorial of their own. So they have adopted ours.
The Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall is always held on May 13 after dark. The names that were engraved on the Wall that year are read, one by one, during the Roll Call of Heroes. All of them. Survivors sit up front, waiting to hear the roll call. Every name has a story. Candles are lit shortly after the last name is read. The sight of more than 40,000 candles burning together will never get old. A lone bagpiper walks through the crowd playing a tribute and a rousing rendition of taps closes out the evening. You can never forget the experience.
As May becomes June and June becomes July, the pictures, the notes, and the mementos placed there start to fade. Sadly, some just disappear. The Memorial returns to the occasional visitor and becomes the shortcut once again. Every name still has a story, but the emotional impact just isn’t the same.
Our story can still be found at the National Law Enforcement Museum across the street from the Memorial 12 months out of the year. It is definitely worth a visit. But if you are a new officer, a veteran officer or a retired officer and haven’t experienced National Police Week, you need to get it on your bucket list for 2023 immediately. You will not regret it. I will see you there!