At the Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service on Sunday, families and law enforcement officers made up a gathering of guardians. Attendees could feel the camaraderie among departments and emotional reunions, but always the solemn nature of the event.
“It’s bittersweet because we remember the fallen, and we live with families that are left behind,” Benjamin Moreno, a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent, said.
“It’s sobering. We were at the candlelight vigil the other night, and when we turned around and looked behind us just to see how far back toward the Capitol it went, it was just amazing to see there were so many people supporting the ones that had fallen,” Anna Prado, a Pennsylvania resident, said.
Among those fallen is a member of Prado’s extended family who lost his life in October. She and hundreds of others ended a week of remembrance with a Sunday service of sorts, amid the droning of bagpipes across the West Lawn of the Capitol.
“The families are here, law enforcement’s here to support those families,” Officer Zach Zaldivar, of Alexandria, Louisiana, said.
They also gathered to ponder sober thoughts about the calling they’ve answered—and the toll that calling can exact when they have to step into the fray.
“These people died protecting them. It's come down now, people don’t respect the police. Well actually, they don’t respect each other,” Officer Alan Stoken, of Alexandria, Louisiana, said.
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Just blocks away, the names of the fallen are etched into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Meanwhile, the memories and pain of the loss are etched into the souls of the survivors.
Three hundred names were added to the memorial this year. Of them, 177 of those deaths were related to COVID-19.
“The day will come when it will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes, and through your pain and your will to find a purpose worthy of how they lived, you’ll get through it,” President Joe Biden said. “But there’s nothing easy about it.”
And nothing’s easy about a job where showing up changes lives, for better or for worse on either side of the badge.
“You should know that we’re there to protect you and we’re there to solve your problem for that day,” Officer Jorhonda Stokes, of Alexandria, Louisiana, said.