Solemn Services Bring Closure to National Police Week (2004)

May 16, 2004
Thousands packed the steps of the Capitol Saturday at the 23rd annual National Police Officers' Memorial Service in Washington.

Slideshows: Saturday Services - Candlelight Vigil

"I wanna be a policeman." Those were the words of 6-year-old Mackey Eales, dressed in an Oklahoma State Highway Patrol uniform made by his mother -- the same uniform worn by his late father, killed in 1999 while executing a narcotics raid.

Mackey ran through the walls of The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. He, along with many others, gathered around the walls containing the names of the fallen, waiting for the wreath to be returned to its center for a wreath-laying ceremony that followed the Twenty-third Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, held Saturday, May 15.

Mackey came to Washington, D.C. with his mother and sister, escorted by members of The Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP). Members of the OHP have returned to the site of the memorial every year since 1999, when Mackey's father, Trooper David Eales, was killed. "We have lost one every year since," said OHP Trooper Curtis Leming. His department, like many others, make the journey to National Police week every year to honor their fallen brothers and sisters and to "never forget."

The memorial service, held on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, was sponsored by the Grand Lodge Auxiliary of the Fraternal Order of Police and hosted by the United States Capitol Police. Lining the streets outside of the steps of the capitol where family members and fellow law enforcement officials gathered, officers sat very still and serious atop horses. They wore an array of colors--different uniforms representing different agencies--all there to honor the fallen.

The service began with the traditional playing of the bagpipes and the advancement of the colors by the U.S. Capitol Police. The national anthem was sung by Deputy Sheriff Linda Blue of the Orange County Sheriff's office. All officers in attendance had their hand up to their head, saluting the country they serve everyday. The officers and family members seemed just as solemn and proud as recording artist Patti LaBelle sang "The Lord's Prayer" before the president of the United States addressed the thousands outside of the Capitol.

"I'm so very honored to join all of you in paying respects -- our respect to our nation's fallen law enforcement officers," said President George W. Bush. President Bush thanked members of the law enforcement community for the sacrifices they make while answering their "calling" to serve and protect the country.

"Our fallen officers died in service to justice, and in defense of the innocent. They will never be forgotten by their comrades, they will never be forgotten by their country," said President Bush. President Bush went on to thank the survivors for being at the service and reminded them that they are not alone and assured them that the nation will not forget their loved ones.

"Their calling in life was to keep the peace. And we pray they have found the peace in the Almighty God," concluded the president.

Following the president was a "roll call of heroes' and a end of the ceremony, which preceded the laying of the wreath at the memorial site. Family members and officers drifted away from the capital and conversed with other, maybe finding support and comfort with others who have been there too.

Leaving the memorial service, Father Paul Clifford, who gave the invocation at the Candlelight Vigil on Thursday and is the Chaplain for the Massachusetts Police Association, said that it is a "powerful time" for survivors during police week. Clifford gave a emotional prayer during the vigil in which he asked the question "Oh God, what is happening here." He said the inspiration for his invocation came from the survivors and his visits to the site of the memorial, as well as all the funerals he has attended. "It leaves you questioning," he said.

Many family members and officers walked the few blocks to Judiciary Square or caught a bus to the site of the memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony.

Alan Streicher and his family sat around the walls of the memorial where his son Adam's name is etched. Adam was 23 years old when he was killed in the line of duty in 2002 while serving with the Stark County Police Department in Illinois. Streicher said that coming the Police Week activities and being around other survivors helps his family deal with the death of his son.

"They're the only ones you can talk to; we've walked in each others shoes," said Streicher. Adam's mother Laurie said the memorial is "another place we feel close to him," and his sister said that she hopes every member of her family gets the opportunity to visit the memorial, "where all the fallen heroes are."

Bill Harvey, a police officer from New Hampshire, said that this was his ninth year visiting the memorial. A good friend of his was killed in 1995 and coming to DC each year is important to him, as is to "never forget."

Like Harvey, more than 20 officers from New York City came to never forget the two under covers detectives that were killed in 2003; Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin. NYPD Officer Michael Alleva said that while it never gets easier, it is important to "be here for them;" the officers they lost.

Widow/Survivor Kristina Vazquez said that she has come to the memorial every year since her husband, an Ohio State Patrol, was killed in 2001. Vazquez, who was with her new fiance, said that she really looks forward to coming each year to be among other survivors. "It always puts things in perspective and makes the rest of the year go better."

Photos of her children lined the top of the wall where her husband's name is forever written. "He was a really good dad, He loved his job and I came to honor him and let him know he's never forgotten."

As the wreath was brought back to the center of the memorial, bagpipes were played by members from Emerald Society and honor guard officers lined the walls. Survivors and brothers and sisters in law enforcement watched and remembered, as they have done all week long and will continue to do for the rest of their lives.

The officers who are forever etched in the walls where the wreath lies will never be forgotten.

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