The city is swarming in cops. Most are in plain clothes. Some have badges hanging around their necks. Others don't. But there is no mistaking them for who and what they are: COPS. When you first get there, it feels like you are arriving at a huge family reunion that is already underway.
The Wall is divided into two large sections. On each section are the names of the 18,661 fallen officers that have been etched into its stone surface. The newest names are always on the very bottom rows of each panel. You now have a sense of what it's like from a physical standpoint.
There are usually throngs of people there. Along the Wall are mementos that have been left there by friends, by survivors, and by agencies from all across the country. Those mementos tell a message of love and of loss. Some start out, "Dear Daddy, I miss you."
The totality of the experience is overwhelming to say the least. Grown men are shaking hands as old friendships are renewed. There are pats on the back. There are eyes filled with tears and hearts filled with pain, everywhere.
Each year, I have worried that I won't feel it. That hasn't happened so far. Each year is as touching as the first time I was there. I hope it always will be that way.
Sharing a beverage is also a must-do function on the Washington tour circuit (wink). There are a few nearby haunts: The Irish Channel, Kelly's and the FOP Beer Tent, to name a few. In those places life-long friendships are created and renewed. It is common to meet someone and within minutes feel like you have known them all of your life.
By late evening, the local establishments will be jammed with cops. Yet, there will be no arguments. Aaaah yes, cops, guns, and alcohol - what a great mix. Everyone acts as if you are their best friend, I guess, because you are. There are no strangers here: only family.
To me, the Candlelight Vigil is the high-point of the week. I am awed as I watch a sea of 25,000 candles come sweeping to light as we hear Amazing Grace sung while watching a laser driven Thin Blue Line appear over our heads.
Then, there is the Final Roll Call where the name of each officer who has been added to the Wall each year is read aloud one, last time. 25,000 of us stand together. We cry together. We pay our respects together. We grieve together. We try to support the survivors whose pain is even greater than our own.
At the end, we migrate, en masse to the FOP Tent and fine solace in the company of one another along with some liquid refreshments.
The annual Police Memorial Service is held on May 15th on the steps of the Capitol. It is always attended by thousands of cops from around the world. There are speeches, songs and tears. That is the day and time when we pay homage to those who have given everything in service to our country.
THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON TO BE THERE
There are the survivors. They are the families who have lost a loved one. They are the cops from agencies who have suffered the loss of a brother or sister. We are there to remind them: they are not alone. They are surrounded by warriors who share their grief and support them.
Whose job is it to minister to the survivors? It is yours, mine and it belongs to the new people that we can bring, as well. Which one of us will end up being very important to someone at Police week this year? Only God knows.
A few years ago, I decided to take one last walk by the Wall on the night before our return trip home. I had been with brothers, consuming a few barley pops, and thought it would be my last chance to see it for another year.
Just before leaving the Memorial grounds, I came upon the most profound memento of the entire week.
I saw a single sheet of loose-leaf paper, complete with 3 holes that had been taped to a very low spot on one of the panels. The writing was in pencil. I stooped over to read it. It looked like a memo, with headings and all.
Realizing what it was, I checked the area, and sat down right on the ground in front of this panel so that I could fully absorb that letter.