T-Sgt. Nate Leonard, Columnist
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation, which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. The proclamation also stated that the week in which May 15 falls will be known as National Police Week. Tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge in Washington D.C. to participate in numerous events which honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
In Washington D.C. is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which was dedicated on October 15, 1991. The memorial honors federal, state and local law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty protecting the people of our nation. The memorial features two curving marble walls, each 304 feet long. Carved on these walls are the names of more than 19,000 officers who have been killed. Unfortunately, this memorial is different than most other memorials because it changes every year. Each year, during National Police Week, new names of fallen officers are added to the walls.
In 2008, Officer Kelley and myself had the unfortunate opportunity to attend a few days of National Police Week. I say unfortunate because we attended in honor of a friend and fellow police officer who was killed in the line of duty in July 2007. Officer Aldo A. Rossi Jr. was hit and killed by a drunk driver while he was directing traffic around a fallen tree. Officer Rossi worked for the Port Dickinson Police Department in the Binghamton area, and the Village of Deposit Police Department in Delaware County. We met Officer Rossi when he came through the Otsego County Police Academy, which is held here at Oneonta State. We were instructors for several blocks of his academy experience and maintained a friendship with him long after graduation. It was an extremely difficult experience to see his name engraved on those walls in Washington D.C.
During National Police Week, they hold a candlelight vigil in the center of the memorial. Thousands of officers gather together in the memorial and await the surviving family members of those lost in the previous year. One of the most unforgettable moments for me was to watch the husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children of the fallen officers walk off of the buses and gather in the memorial with all of the officers to honor and remember those lost.
This year, 166 names will be engraved on the walls in Washington D.C: that is 166 officers who leave behind loved ones, because they died protecting and serving the members of their respective communities. During the week of May 15, please take a moment to think about those 166 officers and the loved ones they leave behind. Go one step further and let a law enforcement officer know that you appreciate them protecting and serving for you. It may seem like such a menial thing to do; yet it is truly an honor for an officer to hear.