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2011 Candlelight Vigil

Introductory & Welcoming Remarks

By Craig W. Floyd, Memorial Fund Chairman and CEO, May 13, 2011

His name was Cornelius Hogeboom. He was a sheriff in Columbia County, New York. Sheriff Hogeboom had the unpleasant but necessary duty of visiting residences that had not paid rent and serving them a writ of ejectment. While serving a notice to the inhabitants of a farm, he was greeted by a hail of bullets and killed.

This story is not unlike so many others that we remember tonight. But, Cornelius Hogeboom’s death is unique in one respect. He was killed on October 24, 1791. For more than 200 years, his life and death were never acknowledged.  Cornelius Hogeboom, and the heroic sacrifice he made for his community and his country, had been forgotten.

But tonight, Cornelius Hogeboom is forgotten no more. Thanks to Memorial researchers, Sheriff Hogeboom’s story was discovered this past year. His name is one of the 316 new additions that we dedicate this evening—and now is recognized as the first American law enforcement officer ever to die in the performance of duty.

His sacrifice has been singled out to make an important point. Whether an officer is killed one year ago, or two centuries ago, they will always be remembered and honored here at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. And tonight, we offer a richly deserved tribute to Sheriff Hogeboom and every one of the other 19,298 heroes of America whose names embrace us here at law enforcement’s National Monument.

Ladies and gentlemen … on behalf of the Memorial Fund’s board of directors, who have joined me here on the dais, it is my honor and privilege to welcome all of you to this, our 23rd Annual Candlelight Vigil. 

Some 20,000 members of the law enforcement family and citizen supporters have joined us here at the Memorial, and I also want to acknowledge the thousands of people who are watching a live webcast of the Vigil on the Internet.

Albert Einstein, a very wise man, once said, “The world is too dangerous to live in — not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”

Einstein’s poignant words remind us of the heroic men and women we honor today—law enforcement professionals who have refused to just “sit and let it happen.”  Since 1791, more than 19,000 federal, state and local officers have sacrificed their lives standing up to the evil doers in this world.   Today, some 800,000 men and women strap a gun to their side, place a badge over their heart, and put the safety of our nation on their shoulders.  They know the dangers of the job, but they never waver in their call to duty.

Robert Blan heard that call to duty.  He had a boyhood dream of becoming a police officer.  At the age of 21, that dream came true when Robert Blan became an Oakland, California police officer.  By all accounts Officer Blan did his job well, but it did not last long.

On May 23, 1973, Robert Blan was shot and killed during a traffic stop.  He was 24 years old and left behind a wife and two young children.  Robert Blan was one of those people who was unwilling to just sit and let evil happen. 

His name was proudly inscribed on these Memorial walls when this monument was dedicated 20 years ago, and his name was read along with the original 12,560 others.

Unfortunately his mother and children were not there to hear it.  In fact, they just learned about this Memorial a year ago.  Daughter Michelle, only six months old when her father was killed, was with us for the first time last year for this Vigil.  She said the visit transformed her life and helped heal her troubles.  This year, she came back and brought her mother, Nancy, in hopes that she might experience that same healing.  Nancy told us earlier today that she had already met other survivors and the healing had definitely begun.  Michelle and Nancy, please know that your father, your husband—Oakland Police Officer Robert Blan—will always be honored and remembered by a grateful nation, and so will you.

Tony Wallace was another one of those special people who refused to just sit and let evil happen.  Like Robert Blan, his dream was to become a police officer.  According to his best friend, “He ate, slept, and dreamt it.  It was the only thing he ever wanted in life.”

Tony was special in many ways.  He was legally deaf, but became an All-American wrestler in college, graduated as valedictorian of his police academy class, and went on to become an outstanding officer with the Hoonah, Alaska Police Department.  On August 29, 2010, Tony Wallace and another officer, Matthew Tokuoka, were shot and killed during an ambush attack.  Compounding the tragedy was the fact that Tony’s mother, Debbie, was in her son’s squad car doing a citizen’s drive along, when the ambush occurred.  She witnessed it all.

Earlier this year, I received a message from a member of the Police Unity Tour named Mike Rae.  He told me that Debbie feels very lost and alone.  She wished that she could be with someone who could understand her pain.  He said, “If [Debbie] comes to the [candlelight vigil] in May, I’d like our folks to kind of adopt her and let her know that her sacrifice is recognized.”

Well, Debbie is here with us tonight.  And, I would like us all to let her know that she is not alone and her sacrifice will always be recognized. 

The deaths of Tony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka are stark reminders of the increasing risks that our officers face today.  Last year, there were 152 federal, state and local law enforcement fatalities across our nation—roughly one death nearly every other day.  The number of officers killed was 25 percent higher than the year before.

Sadly, I must report that 2011 is even worse.  There have been 71 line-of-duty deaths during the first five months of this year, including two U.S. Border Patrol Agents killed just yesterday.  That’s a 20 percent increase over the same time last year.  Especially alarming is the sharp rise in officers killed by gunfire—33 already this year—a 60 percent increase over 2010.

Tonight, as we gather to honor the fallen, let us also resolve to do more to make it safer for those who continue to serve.  It is the least we can do to honor and support the valiant guardians of our nation who refuse to just sit back and let evil happen.

In closing, let me say to the survivors here tonight, most of us never knew your lost loved one; but thanks to this Memorial, the coming National Law Enforcement Museum, and a caring nation, we will never forget them, nor will we forget you!

Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our ceremony.  We thank you for coming. May God bless all of you, and may God bless all of America’s peace officers.