Department of Justice Seal

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Annual Wreathlaying Ceremony

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - 1:00 P.M. EDT

Good afternoon.

Today, we use the traditional and solemn act of laying a wreath to honor heroes who gave up their lives while protecting our communities, our homes, and our families. We honor seventeen officers who were killed in the line of duty.

The officers we honor today come from a wide range of law enforcement agencies, including police and sheriffs’ offices in Virginia and Maryland, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Forest Service, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. The death of each of these officers is an individual tragedy, whose starkest impact is felt by their families and loved ones. But their deaths are a collective tragedy too, for the communities they served and protected, and for all those who work at law enforcement.

The officers honored today dedicated themselves to enforcing the laws of our great nation -- to making sure those words on paper have real meaning. And this ceremony reminds us that doing that – upholding the rule of law – does not come cheap. It takes a heavy toll on the men and women who serve, and on the families whose love and support make that service possible. It takes its heaviest toll when one of these patriots is lost.

Because these officers fell while protecting our safety, our prosperity, and the integrity of our system of government, we remember and honor them.

The mission of law enforcement has been summed up in the phrase "to protect and to serve." That expression does not mention that an officer may be called on to give his or her life in the line of duty, but that possibility is understood. It's a part of the code honored by every officer and every agent, by every spouse, every parent and every child. It is a special burden they all bear to give the rest of us the luxury of safety and peace. Today’s ceremony allows us to express our appreciation for those who go to work every day knowing that their names could someday be carved on this monument, and to their families and others close to them.

But just as they have their duty and burden, we have ours. One of course is that those of us who benefit must keep sharply in our minds those who show bravery and make the sacrifice. We do that, of course, when we lay our former colleagues to rest, as I saw earlier this year when I attended the funerals for DEA Special Agent Tom Byrne and BOP Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, the two members of the Justice Department family that we honor today. And we do that through ceremonies like this, when we ensure that memory of their service and of their bravery does not fade over time. But beyond that, we must live our lives in such a way as to deserve their service and sacrifices, and the service and sacrifice of all law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement is not about badges and uniforms, it's about taking a stand to preserve the rights of our neighbors, and to shield them from danger. A coward and a bully will run when challenged. We're here today because these men and women did not run—because they stood their ground, and did their jobs, whatever the consequences.

May God rest their souls. And may each of you who is honoring a loved one no longer with us, find strength in those who have gathered here today, and in those who have dedicated themselves to carrying on the mission, whom we all thank for that dedication.

Thank you very much.