Military and Police

‘Respect. Honor. Remember.’ Etched in Stone at National Law Enforcement Memorial

“Every day, each one of you walks out the door of your homes to protect and serve our families at the risk of not returning to yours.”

This week is National Police Week whereby memorials all across the nation are attended to in order to respect, honor, and remember our country’s fallen law enforcement officers. Annually, names of police officials who have fallen in the line of duty are engraved in stone monuments.

As a curious sort of person who is always intrigued by uncommon things, I once delved into the world of stenciling, sandblasting, Silin staining, and the meticulous process of engraving into stone the names of deceased cops. In this light, I pondered the process of name-carving and the psychology behind this practice, especially as it relates to memorializing and dignifying cops slain in the course of duty.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) in Washington, DC sponsors a monument that currently contains over 20,000 names. Names are added to the marble every spring, in preparation for National Police Week which is held annually in May. Curtained by trees and indigenous flora, the “pathway to remembrance” is shaped like a horseshoe, around which low-rise marble is set, beveled by a duo of highly skilled craftsmen: Kirk Bockman and Jim Lee.

With absolute respect and honor, Mr. Bockman and Mr. Lee perform their craft to ensure permanency upon the hallowed blue-gray marble walls so that we remember the fallen warriors of our nation’s law enforcement institution. The ritual of engraving police names must emotionally weigh on the ones who are skillfully yet carefully inlaying letters and numbers to attest the oath fulfillment of these fallen officers. As well, both of these gentlemen dutifully undertake restorative efforts to maintain pristine condition of the wall. The psychology in performing this routine must be fragile, understandably so.

To most, reading and tracing (“rubbings”) the carvings is trivial without a solitary thought to the applications specialists. That is understandable too. I imagine the artisans carving into marble have not one grain of attention-seeking behavior, only somberness. Or quiet pride stemming from thousands of brothers and sisters who know of their precise efforts, approving from up above.

Like a second- or third-string quarterback welcomed to the playing-field huddle, a sense of belonging and humble support has tons of value without superstardom. Without the bright lights and boisterous fanatics to flood the arena with din, skilled hands carefully sculpt the sacred marble walls ensconcing the NLEOMF grounds, those skills exemplifying gratitude to those lain for countless others.

The American dream sometimes comes with scars emblematic of fighting for rights and all things decent. I envision those who carve police names in stone walls embracing the warrior spirit of those to whom they are memorializing. As Mr. Lee said emotionally, “We’ve done every name here … the purpose served of the aggregate cause, dedication and sacrifice law enforcement makes. It’s just a very meaningful powerful place.”

I suspect carvers Mr. Bockman and Mr. Lee consider the over 20,000 uniformed warriors as part of their family, underscoring chiseled memories painstakingly embedded by their hands and fingers. To remember, respect and honor someone is galvanized when it is purely mutual. The final product is akin to an authentically-gripped handshake.

As former-President George H.W. Bush once said of the Pathway of Remembrance:

“Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”

Mr. Bush’s statement is also carved into stone at the NLEOMF wall.

In his speech given at the NLEOMF ceremony this year, President Donald Trump exuded deep pride for cops when he said:

“America as a nation must always have the clarity to know the difference between good and evil, between right and wrong, and between those who uphold our laws and those who so easily break them. We owe it to the fallen to act according to our best and highest ideals. We owe it to their memory to put the truth before politics, justice before agendas, and to put the safety and security of the American people above everything else.”

Indeed, “above everything else,” including themselves.

Vice President Mike Pence also expressed the support and respect that this administration holds for the police when he said to all the law enforcers in the crowd,

“Every day, each one of you walks out the door of your homes to protect and serve our families at the risk of not returning to yours.”

Mr. Pence’s words wafted the sacred grounds upon which there were over 20,000 testimonies exemplifying his message.

Respect. Honor. Remember.

“It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived” said Vivian Eney Cross, a survivor. It doesn’t get any more heartfelt than that.

And how they lived should be etched upon our minds throughout the remainder of the year as we continue to respect, honor and remember our nation’s principles of peace, liberty and justice.

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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