Wall to Glory

This look at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and the wall where names of fallen officers are inscribed and remembered forever offers an unprecedented view of National Police Week.

Photos by Ed Carattini Jr.

Story by Mitchell Krugel

Midnights at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial during Police Week create a goosebump-inducing silence. Even though the Memorial is filled with people who have come to visit and pray at the sacred wall where the 23,785 names of officers lost in the line of duty are inscribed, hardly a word is spoken. The soundtrack is “Amazing Grace,” “Minstrel Boy” or another ceremonial tune reverberating from a lone bagpiper playing.

The wall glows so embracingly at this time, and not just because of the footlights and lampposts on site. This is a great time to begin this special tour of the wall and the memorabilia adorning it that so vividly tells the story of Police Week.

“The first time I was there at night I saw [Lakewood Local 72 State Delegate] Sean Ward,” recalls Ed Carattini Jr., the Verona Local 72 State Delegate. “I looked at him and he’s upset, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing man?’ He looked at me and he goes, “I’m talking to Chris.” And at that point, he motioned to the wall and the panel with Chris Matlosz’s name. He told me the whole story of the night Chris was shot. We were there for like an hour. Sitting there with him at nighttime while he was talking to his friend, it just captured me. And I told myself, ‘I have to go there every single year.’”

For the past 10 years, Ed Carattini has been going back to the wall at midnight, as well as during the day, and taken hundreds, maybe even thousands of photos of the wall for NJ Cops Magazine. For the past 10 years, the magazine’s coverage of Police Week has always culminated with Ed’s best photos of the wall.

But these images best convey the emotion, the significance, the vitality of Police Week better than any words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, these images each are beyond words. Or maybe there just are not enough words.

So to provide a look at the wall you won’t get anywhere else because it comes through Ed’s eyes and lens, this year’s coverage of Police Week starts here. Beginning with the image on the cover of the wall glowing at night, this special tour will give PBA members a sense of what you see and what you feel at the wall. The array of photos on the next page will move you through the emotions of remembrance to reverence to tears as a walk around the wall can do.

“Just to experience all that emotion and experience of everybody honoring their fallen and the respect at that place,” Carattini reasons about his passion for the wall. “Seeing all the families and the kids and everybody gathering and mourning the loss of their loved one, or their friend or their colleague, I thought to myself, ‘I’m here, I’m experiencing it.” Just to capture it so I could bring that back and show people who have never been there before.”

See for yourself the letters and banners broadcasting “Daddy, I love you,” the personal effects of the fallen like memorabilia from favorite sports teams, beer glasses and even hockey skates. Or the photo collages of these beautiful sisters and brothers, the carving of each letter of each name into the granite or the shots of Jameson poured and left for the fallen. One night several years ago, Carattini was making his rounds when a group of officers he had never met from a town he had never heard of up and asked him to sit down and have a shot with them as they saluted a brother who had been lost the previous year.

That healing power of the brotherhood is what Carattini’s shots illustrate about the wall that make it so great and powerful. Take a look at exhibit A of this in the photo of a brother reaching out, bowing his head and placing his hand on a spot on the wall presumably where a fallen friend or brother is inscribed.

Or the photo of the spouse running a pencil on a strip of paper to take an etching of what appears to be her loved one’s name while their daughter stands next to her. Could this little girl never have known her father?

“It’s always the hands on the wall etching the loved one’s name. When I see that and the officer crying and sobbing or the woman sobbing trying to get the name etched so they could bring that home, that’s intense,” Carattini relates. “You think that it could happen to any one of us and it has to touch you at some point.”

Falling under the spell of the wall can happen just like that. Carattini made a spur-of-the-moment trip to D.C. in his early 20s when he had not yet come on the job. He grew up in a law enforcement family with his father serving with Jersey City, so he certainly new the honor of the profession.

Ironically, he had been considering becoming a priest and following that path to helping the masses. But during the trip to D.C., he happened to come up on the Memorial and the wall. It was such a religious experience, that he chose to follow the law enforcement path.

“I almost felt like I was home in a weird sort of way,” he confides about his first visit. “I started getting goosebumps. It was just so powerful.”

NJ State PBA President Pat Colligan has joined Carattini on his midnight mission to the wall many times. Colligan, too, has been induced to goosebumps by artifacts posted at the wall during Police Week. Like the note in one of the photos displayed showing the poem “I have Walked with a Lion,” that a wife left as a tribute to her fallen husband.

“It’s kind of like the first police funeral I went to when I first got hired. When you’re going to some hot call, that’s the reminder to keep alert,” Colligan explains. “The wall does the same thing to me. You see the pictures that the kids drew and the messages and the shots of Jameson, and it’s over.”

National Police Week generates so many indelible images every year. And they are of life-changing moments that all officers who have ever been say they will never forget.

That’s what you see here that Carattini said he tries to help anybody who is not able to attend experience. So pour a shot of Jameson and take a look. You will never forget.

Getting the Picture

By Ed Carattini Jr. 

So why I do what I do?

Since 2011, I’ve taken quite a few photos (LOL). Some of my closest friends have their own albums. My daughter, Lea, obviously has the most.

Someone once asked me why I dedicate so much time taking photographs. What I see through that viewfinder isn’t easy to describe. But I’ll try my best.

Everyone has special moments in time, special occasions, special events and milestones. I try to capture those moments for those people.

Everyone has those special places. It can be lower Manhattan with the river in the background, Yankee Stadium down the first-base line or a PBA Valor Awards ceremony. It’s all life experiences that are important to many people in many ways.

If I can capture that special smile, that boisterous laugh, that stern handshake, and, yes, sometimes those painful tears; that memory, that special moment and sometimes that painful time, I can freeze forever. That’s amazing feeling.

The camera captures all emotions: moments of anger, someone’s laughter of joy, a subtle smile, and excited happiness. And I can capture those moments so that person can look at that photo and reflect and remember that special moment in time.

Sometimes the photos can help a person mourn that painful experience. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the incredible part of being able to take a photo and give it to people so they can never forget, so they can always remember. If they choose, they can look at that photo and cry over it or smile and laugh. And remember that time in their life forever.

If I were to give some examples, it would be when I snapped a photo of Chris Matlosz’s mother and Michael Morgan’s mother meeting for the first time at the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Two mothers, whose sons were law enforcement officers in New Jersey and were lost in the line of duty, holding hands and looking at each other without saying a word, The pain they both felt and were sharing with each other was sad, intense and solemn all at the same time. I didn’t know what to say. After taking the photos, I gave them each a hug and a kiss and walked away with my head down.

Taking photos of members who attend National Police Week for the very first time, I get to see how they experience that honor and reverence, and the way they feel the respect of that hallowed ground. To be able to capture that for them and bring their experience back home to everyone else who wears a badge on their chest – there are no words to describe it.

I have also taken many photos of friends who, unfortunately, aren’t with us anymore. I have had the honor of sharing those photos with their colleagues, family and friends. Again, I still have no words.

Walking through the Memorial at night is an experience different from any other at Police Week. Spending time with a close friend, walking side by side with a complete stranger, making small talk with a first-time visitor or meeting a rookie who has no idea what anything truly means or why the older guys dragged him along are some of the experiences that make the nighttime visit so emotional and memorable.

Just take a second to listen. Listen to the silence. At times you’ll hear someone crying. At times, you’ll hear a story and a few people laughing. You will always see someone giving a hug or a handshake. And as the midnight bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace,” during a slow walk around the Memorial, you feel a brotherhood and a sisterhood like no other profession has.

That’s why I do what I do.

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Photo Gallery