2012 Candlelight Vigil
By Craig W. Floyd, Memorial Fund Chairman & CEO, May 13, 2012
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
This quotation from President John F. Kennedy, captures the essence of why we have gathered here tonight—to express a heartfelt tribute to our law enforcement professionals who serve us so well and have sacrificed so much in the name of public safety.
Fittingly, as we are inspired by his words, we also must acknowledge that it was President Kennedy, in 1962, who signed the law designating May 15 of each year as “Peace Officers Memorial Day,” and the seven days that surround it as “National Police Week.” President Kennedy clearly understood what too many of our citizens often take for granted—our cherished freedoms and liberties would not exist without the sweat and blood of some 800,000 professionals whose simple motto is: “To protect and to serve.”
And with such valiant service comes sacrifice. Since 1791, more than 19,000 federal, state and local officers have sacrificed their lives in law enforcement service.
One of those officers was Deriek Crouse, of the Virginia Tech Police Department. I had the honor of meeting his wife, Tina, and 16-year-old son Dustin, last month. Tina said her husband carried himself with authority at work, but could be like a kid at home, shouting at Pittsburgh Steelers games on TV and still listening to his favorite band from high school, Metallica. While administering a traffic stop on the Virginia Tech campus last December, a man walked up to Officer Crouse and opened fire, ending his life and shattering many others.
Another of those fallen American heroes was a correctional officer named Jayme Biendl. As a young girl, Jayme was a star softball player and helped run her family’s Christmas Tree Farm. In 2003 she began a career in law enforcement with the Washington State Department of Corrections. Tragically, on January 29, 2011, Jayme was strangled in the Washington State Reformatory Chapel by an inmate who was serving a sentence of life without parole. He later told investigators that he did it because he “had nothing to lose.”
Craig Birkholz served with the Fond du Lac (WI) Police Department. “He always thought of everybody else before he thought of himself,” his aunt, Patty Brown, once said. On March 20, 2011, he responded to a call for assistance—a fellow officer had been shot. As Officer Birkholz arrived on the scene, the gunman ambushed and killed him.
Tonight, we honor Officer Birkholz for a life of compassion and service, and for his valiant effort to assist a colleague in trouble. But, we also celebrate the life he helped save. Fond du Lac Police Officer Ryan Williams was the injured officer in need of assistance that fateful day. He had been shot twice by a sexual assault suspect who had taken his six-year-old daughter hostage. The high-powered rifle bullets penetrated his body armor, but were slowed enough to spare his life.
Thankfully, Officer Williams survived the attack, along with his K-9, Grendel, and three months later was back on the job. For the courage he displayed and the inspiration he has provided to so many, we named Ryan Williams our Officer of the Month. Yesterday, he amazed us once again when he rode into the Memorial grounds on his bicycle, completing a 300-mile ride as part of the Police Unity Tour. Tonight, he honors us with his presence. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring one of “America’s Finest,” Fond du Lac Police Officer Ryan Williams.
And, I would like to note that tomorrow we will be honoring Officer Williams and all of our Officers of the Month for 2011 at a special awards luncheon. Their names are all listed in your program.
We are all touched by these heroic stories and so many others tonight as we honor the fallen and their families, and give a special salute to all members of America’s “thin blue line.”
But, we also must acknowledge that the “thin blue line” has been diminished these past couple of years. In fact, since 2009, the number of officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice has spiked by more than 30 percent. Last year, there were 70 officers killed by gunfire, the second highest total of the past decade. Tonight, as we add 362 news names to this Memorial, we must also strengthen our resolve to make it safer for those officers who continue to risk their lives for our safety and protection.
To all of the officers gathered here tonight, please know that your service and your sacrifice is highly valued by the citizens that you serve. You may not always hear the words, “thank you,” nearly enough, but your nation has built a national monument here in your honor. America has dedicated an entire week to celebrate your service, and in a couple of years from now, there will be a national museum right across the street from this Memorial to tell your heroic story. Few professions receive such high honor, and few are so deserving.