There is a stage at the front. There are hundreds (maybe a couple of thousand) chairs set up for use by the survivors. The throng of cops surrounds the survivors as if to protect them from the harsh reality of the situation.
The Candlelight Vigil service started at 8:00PM; it is now about 9:15. We had heard speakers speak and singers sing. Then, all of the electric lights are put out. The Memorial Candle is lit on the dias and its flame is passed from one person to another until all 25,000 of us are holding our lit candles high in the air for our fallen brothers to see from above.
Suddenly, a voice resonates through the night air and simultaneously, a laser beam of a Thin Blue Line streams strong and proud over our collective heads. The voice we hear is that of Craig Floyd, NLEOMF Chairman. This is what we hear him say as he speaks to our hearts and minds:
They are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. They are chiefs and sheriffs, constables and deputies, troopers and special agents. They are our colleagues, protectors and friends.
But there is one word that fits them all - hero - not because of how they died, but because of how they lived. Tonight, we honor all of the fallen, and all who continue to follow in their footsteps of law enforcement service - all of them members of America's thin blue line of righteousness, protection and hope.
They advance when others flee, fight when others cower, stand up for what is right when others stand by. Common men and women inspired to perform uncommon acts of courage and compassion - always willing to put the safety and welfare of others above their own. It is their calling, and our good fortune. Each and every day they stand watch over us all, like a lioness protecting her cubs. Tonight, we offer a grateful salute.
We especially remember and honor the fallen. Their legacy of selfless service and supreme sacrifice is forever carved into the marble walls that embrace us tonight. They ensured that the thin blue line spread widely and gloriously to communities across our nation.
In the flickering light of our candles, we are reminded of their goodness and the gifts they gave us - cherished freedoms, an abundant future for our children, a safe America.
As we raise our candles skyward in an act of remembrance and reverence, we honor all members of the thin blue line - those who have died, those who have been left behind, those who continue to serve. May they never be alone... may they never be forgotten.
We were grieving. Together.
The next afternoon, the three of us from Florida found two new very best buds from Bentonville, AK (home of Wal-Mart). We were sitting in the sidewalk serving area of the Irish Channel Tavern. It is rumored that beer is served at the Irish Channel, but those reports remain unconfirmed as of this writing (grin).
We were having a great visit - just being together when a very uncommon event occurred. Passing by our table, looking for a seat was a group of 4 adults and a 5 year old child. Each was wearing a survivor badge. The year on the badge: 2008. We looked somewhat in disbelief because survivors had not been seen at The Channel before. Survivors typically didn't hang with a bunch of beer-drinking coppers. But they were here and now was the time.
As they neared our table, we all stood to pay our respects. I asked about their loss. He was an officer from Pennsylvania. In attendance as survivors were: his daughter, his wife, his Mom & Dad and his partner. Amen. Doing the only thing we knew, we bought them a round of drinks, patted them on the back, and extended our sympathies. They took a table just one away from ours.
The cops around them were grieving in their own unique way: a mixture of laughter, sadness and beer. Those survivors sat among us and we knew they were hurting, but we just didn't know what to do.
One of my traveling partners found a piper who came to the table of survivors and played Amazing Grace. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Coppers nearly swarmed that family as they extended their support.