Guest column by Capitol Police Lieutenant Crystal J. Golightley
It was an honor to have been given the opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital, and to have participated in the National Police Week, May 11 – May 17, 2014. I was able to honor not just the 10 fallen brothers of our own from the Kansas Highway Patrol, but to have honored the many other names that are etched in stone every year. The experience was humbling to say the least. During some of the sight-seeing there was a phrase I heard that I’ve heard many times over the years. I’ve seen it in history books, and read the definition conceded by the leaders that formed our great nation. The traditionally understood meaning of the phrase, E Pluribus Unum, was that out of many states, (or colonies) emerged a single nation. This phrase became the center of my focus for the 2014 National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., as it fit so much of the atmosphere that the community was honoring.
Naturally because I am a law enforcement officer, and I traveled to D.C. for Police Week, I paid particular attention to the local area law enforcement as a spectator. I observed several area agencies working alongside each other for what appeared to be a multiple vehicle accident investigation. Another incident was a car stop. E Pluribus Unum, many agencies working side by side with one precise goal.
It was noticeable that it was police week in D.C. by the numerous law enforcement officers who were walking around. Some I could identify because they were in uniform, others had their badges displayed, and then there were those that I just knew were law enforcement because they had “that look” about them. The first place I visited was the National Law Enforcement Memorial. I spent a lot of time walking through the memorial. I looked at every photo, and I read every story card. I found myself searching for the names I knew, and remembering my own personal memories. I thought about how their lives and the lives of their loved ones were changed forever in a matter of half seconds. My heart ached for the children who left letters for their moms and dads by their names. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be standing among the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Those names, those officers, and their stories have become national symbols of heroism. Still, I couldn’t shake the unimaginable feeling of sympathy for the loved ones of those names who must find the strength to continue to live their lives without their hero from that day on.
I did some sightseeing during my visit, and I was genuinely surprised at the hospitality of the community to the visiting law enforcement officers. It was remarkable to see citizens waving with smiles on their faces, the general public happy to have us visiting the area. Meeting other law enforcement from different states and agencies was a positive experience.
I attended the Candlelight Vigil during one of the evenings. It was best described as a breathtaking sight. Officers from across the United States, Canada, and England were on site to welcome and escort the families of the fallen officers as they were bused in. The ceremony was presented perfectly; heart touching stories were shared, and songs were sang. For as far as I could see in all directions there were law enforcement, family members, and supporters all standing shoulder to shoulder as the light of the candles were passed throughout. The flames represented the names on the memorial wall, and then the thin blue light was lit. E Pluribus Unum. That sea of candlelight represented the union of a profession mourning our losses as one. I listened as I watched a mother explain to her small child that the “blue light is shown to help guide the souls of the officers to heaven.” We said a prayer for their souls. During the entire event there was a profound sense of unity.
The 2014 National Law Enforcement Memorial was held on the lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. I watched as the police motorcades from all parts of the U.S. escorted buses into the area. When we were called to attention, and the bagpipes began to play it was amazing how the entire area of thousands of people became silent. The families of the fallen were escorted through the walkway made by officers dressed in their best, standing shoulder to shoulder to salute the families in honor the fallen heroes. This continued for over an hour until the last family member was seated. The unified respect was remarkable. Again, E Pluribus Unum. Out of many officers representing many different agencies, we all came to one place and stood together as one entity to honor those who were lost together.
I left D.C. in awe of the events, in awe of the camaraderie, and in awe of the brother/sisterhood across the nation. I left with a desire to return to my home agency and continue to serve my community with integrity, assist my fellow co-workers by being diligent, and staying focused. I am deeply proud of my profession, and I want to honor those heroes daily by being one of the many who want to make a difference in the life of just one person.