Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Craig [Floyd], for that very kind introduction, for your dedicated leadership as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; and for the vital work that you and your colleagues do to organize this beautiful commemoration every year. I also want to thank Secretary [Jeh] Johnson for his remarks, for his service to this country and for all that he and his colleagues do to keep it safe. It is, as always, a deeply humbling honor to join you all for this commemoration.
Every day, the men and women in this nation’s law enforcement services put themselves in harm’s way in order to secure our communities, to defend our values and to make real the promise of liberty and justice for all. You patrol our streets and stand guard in our neighborhoods. You protect and serve our fellow citizens. And through your daily efforts – through countless unseen acts of valor – you make our country not only stronger, but more just.
In doing so, you fulfill a remarkable mission and you take on an extraordinary and often dangerous charge. Since the first-known officer death in 1791, more than 20,000 officers have been killed in the line of duty. They came from states and towns across the country – from Michigan to Louisiana, from Washington to Maine. They were black and white, Hispanic and Asian-American, gay and straight, celebrated and unknown. They were brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends. They were ours. And while their earthly remains lie in resting places around the nation, today, we bring their spirit here, to this special place.
This year, we will pay special tribute to 252 men and women – some who passed away in 2015 and others who died in years prior. We will mourn colleagues like Timothy Davison of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – a correctional officer who had served for only eight months before he was assaulted while escorting an inmate to his cell. We will remember friends like Brent Hanger, a detective and 17-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol who suffered a heart attack during an investigation, leaving his wife and six children behind. And we will grieve for officers like Kerrie Sue Orozco of the Omaha Police Department, who had put off maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter prematurely and who was shot and killed while serving a felony arrest warrant, one day before she was scheduled to bring her baby home.
Each of these losses is its own tragedy. Each leaves a void that no words can fill. Each breaks our hearts. And beyond the raw wound of a loved one’s absence, they leave behind other unseen wounds – wounds that often afflict those who are tasked with carrying forward the work of fallen comrades. A few weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis as part of a community policing tour. I was privileged to lead a roundtable event with officers who had experienced trauma. I spoke to officers who had lost a colleague in the line of duty, colleagues like the ones we honor this evening. Determined to carry on their fallen comrades’ missions, they also spoke about the sense of isolation within those left behind. They spoke of how the suffering that they had absorbed seemed to have no end. Most of all, in their grief, they talked about feeling alone.
As we stand here with one another tonight, I hope that this amazing gathering – of courageous colleagues, loving family members and devoted friends tens of thousands strong – will serve as a reminder that no matter what happens, we are not alone. We will always stand together – shoulder to shoulder – through adversity and challenge; through victory and celebration; through difficulty and loss. As you look around this awe-inspiring crowd, I hope that you feel, as I do, the strength of our extraordinary family. I hope that you feel, as I do, the closeness of our band of brothers and sisters. And I hope that you feel, as I do, the humbling responsibility to continue the work of our friends commemorated here – to create the better and brighter future that all Americans deserve.
Today, we celebrate the lives of more than 20,000 beautiful souls who made the ultimate sacrifice – and gave what President Abraham Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion” – in the service of this nation and its people. It is fitting and necessary that we take this time together to remember them, to celebrate their lives and to lift up the light that they brought to us all. Soon, we will call the roll of those newest stars in our firmament of heroes. The family members of those on this roll will wait for that blessed name, even though its calling brings forth the loss anew. All of us will feel the full weight of our loss, a loss that can seem insurmountable. But consider not just how our loved ones died but how they lived. Consider the gifts they left to us in their examples of service to others, of commitment to great ideals, of dedication to a cause greater than oneself. Consider what they would want for us. They would not want us to feel that weight, nor falter under its burden. They would want us to exercise the blessings of the liberty they gave their lives to secure. They would want us to move forward in service to the cause they deemed worthy of their sacrifice. and most of all, they would want us to carry on their work in that spirit of service, of commitment and dedication – in that spirit of joy – that they brought to their mission each and every day. How can we do any less? So in the days ahead, let us move forward together – to care for one another, to honor the legacies of our fallen friends and to continue the work of building the more perfect Union and more just society that they gave their lives to defend.
Thank you. May God bless the memories of all those we have lost and hold them in the palm of His hand. May God bless their families and friends and overlay their grief with His everlasting grace. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.