Honoring the Fallen
By Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
It is a true honor to be here tonight for this solemn service. Although I have been attorney general for only a few short months, I have worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years. If I were to serve for 30 more, it would only confirm that there is no greater burden nor greater honor than to bear the loss of a friend, a colleague, or a loved one in service to our nation.
Tonight, we dedicate 387 names to the walls of this memorial. Two hundred fifty-four of these men and women were lost in years past in some cases, long before any of us were born. It is a tribute to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund that you have worked so diligently to uncover their names and make their heroic stories known to all. Because of your efforts, the legacies of these unsung heroes will receive the place in our nation’s history that they rightly deserve.
One hundred thirty-three of the names we honor today were lost to us in the past year. This is a stunning number 133. It is a number that truly should give us pause to reflect. One hundred and thirty-three brave officers men and women whose backgrounds and stories are as diverse as our nation itself gave their lives to protect our safety and to defend our freedoms. They are forever bound together by an unbreakable bond of valor. They each gave, as Lincoln said, the “last full measure of devotion” to the country we love so dearly.
To the husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, friends, and fellow officers all of those here tonight who have been touched by the lives we honor you have been called upon to bear a special burden. And, though there is no speech or ceremony that can ease your pain, no tribute or salute, tonight we join together in a candlelight vigil to honor their courage and to fill your hearts with our nation’s gratitude.
The word vigil derives from the Latin word for “wakefulness.” It means, literally, “a period of purposeful sleeplessness.” That is, in a sense, what we are here tonight to do: to refuse to sleep to refuse to forget the heroes we’ve lost or their work that remains undone.
Though we may grieve, we must emphatically reject despair. Unlike most other careers, the brave men and women who embark upon a life in law enforcement know fully that they might one day be called upon to lay down their lives in the call of duty. Those we honor tonight made that choice willingly. Indeed, they embraced it. And, that is why their ultimate sacrifice means so much. They served and sacrificed for a purpose far greater than themselves. I can think of no truer definition of a hero.
For all of those here tonight who answer the call to keep our country safe, you know that every kiss from your spouse, every hug from a child, every visit with a parent, means a little bit more. So, I ask that you honor the lives of your fallen colleagues by giving as much of yourself to your loved ones as you give every day in service to your country. We all know that without their love and support, your service would not be possible. Family is everything.
Attorney General Holder delivered this speech at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Candlelight Vigil on May 13, 2009.
It is up to all of us to bear true witness to the bravery and sacrifice made by the heroes we honor today by remembering that we all have a personal role to play in keeping our neighborhoods safe and our nation secure. We must take responsibility for the problems we face in our communities and take a stand against crimes both large and small. We must help each other in times of need, and we must teach our children the difference between right and wrong.
The candles we light tonight will not burn for long, but they remind us that we must all be the keepers of the flame once borne by our fallen heroes. Let us bring this light back to our cities, our neighborhoods, our streets, and our homes. Let us light the darker corners of our country where crime still thrives, where children live in fear, and where law enforcement is threatened.
Tonight, we hold a vigil, but, every day, we must be vigilant. So, let us bind ourselves together with a new bond of service to make our country brighter, safer, and more hopeful and, in so doing, let us honor the memory of our fallen heroes every day.
We read in the Scriptures, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Let us remember these words today and always. And, in deepest gratitude, let us be secure in the knowledge that our dear friends rest in peace and in a place of honor.
May God bless you and the men and women who have given their lives in service to our nation. Thank you.
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