Today, I had the pleasure of speaking at the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers memorial service in our state capital, Pierre. It is an annual memorial ceremony to honor the heroes who have been killed in the line of duty. Rather than comment on it, I am posting my speech in case any of you missed it.
In 1962 President John F. Kennedy declared May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which it falls, as Police Week. He did this to set a day and week during the year to acknowledge and honor the sacrifice made by law enforcement officers and their families. Ironically and tragically, the following year Kennedy was assassinated and Dallas Police Officer JD Tippit was murdered the same day by the same man accused of killing Kennedy. Officer Tippit would be honored during the 1964 Police Memorial Day ceremony.
We are all here today because we all have something terrible in common: We all know of someone in law enforcement who gave their life serving the people of their community.
As I see it, memorials are held to accomplish two things: (1) They provide a time and place for friends and family to mourn. (2) Memorials provide a time and place for us to remember and honor those whose lives were lost, or stolen.
So we’re all here together this day and this week because it has been set aside for us – to take time out of our routines and busyness to pay respects, remember, and mourn. Otherwise, I am quite sure we would never do that, because we do routine and busyness quite well. We in law enforcement tend to set aside our emotions and our feelings and find something to take our minds off of whatever is bothering us, sometimes at the expense of our families. We’re so good at it JFK had to give us our own day and week so that we could do it right. And it worked because we are all here today, together.
I have personally known four law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Trooper Oren Hindman, whose last conversation with me had to do with him jokingly bragging about his report writing prowess and how the DUI suspect who crashed through a fence wouldn’t stand a chance after he put his pen to paper. Officer Les Hollers, who in his last conversation with me on the night he was injured, offered to buy me coffee later because he was so tired from the day’s events with his family. Officer Nick Armstrong, who was smiling ear to ear when we talked the last time, about his assignment guarding a water main break and how somebody had to do it. And Ryan McCandless who in his last conversation with me shared his ideas about some of the things I was doing wrong (he was right by the way). These four men and their tragic end span some 27 years and have undoubtedly had an impact on me and many others. This is how I know how some of you feel. This is that commonality we all share here today.
The heroes on the memorial wall are gone forever, but remembered always. They inspire us by their actions, their courage, their heroism. They continue to inspire us, long after they are gone.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have bad feelings about the way these brave men and women were taken from us. I sometimes feel a rush of anger or guilt or sorrow. I hope I am not the only one who feels that way.
I said I sometimes feel those things, but I always feel fortunate to have known them, I always feel motivated by their sacrifice, I always feel a sense of duty, or maybe even an obligation to continue to do what we always do, to continue what they were doing when they were taken from us. And no matter how sad or guilty or angry I may feel, I know my feelings are but a fraction of those felt by the spouses, sons and daughters, parents, and siblings left behind.
I can tell you something I have learned the hard way and have seen with my own eyes: That when a law enforcement officer falls, the impact goes deep. Not only are friends, family and colleagues affected, entire communities are affected. Grade school kids and grandparents are afraid. Average ordinary citizens share a feeling of loss and a renewed sense of vulnerability. It devastates a community, and for good reason – law enforcement officers take care of and protect every man woman and child and when they lose their life doing so, it causes us all to focus on those things we are afraid of.
It’s tragic, it’s hurtful, it’s wrong and it shouldn’t happen but it does. But why? I’ll tell you why: Because there is evil in this world and there are brave honorable men and women who are willing to put themselves at risk to make the world a better place. I am so proud to part of a profession whose members are dedicated and hard working and take risks to serve total strangers every day.
We are all here today because we all have something beautiful in common: We all know of someone in law enforcement who gave their life serving the people of their community.
Thank you and God bless you.