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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2004
President Bush Honors Nation's Fallen Law Enforcement Officers
Remarks by the President at the Annual Peace Officers' Memorial Service
United States Capitol
12:46 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. I'm so very honored to join all of you in paying respects -- our respect to our nation's fallen law enforcement officers. Every year on this day, we pause to remember the sacrifice and faithful services of officers lost in the line of duty throughout our nation's history. And we add to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial the names of men and women lost in the past year, as well as some who fell in the line of duty in other times. They accepted the hard responsibilities of a great and essential calling.
Our fallen officers died in service to justice, and in defense of the innocent. They will never be forgotten by their comrades, they will never be forgotten by their country. And today, in the presence of so many families and friends they loved, our nation pays tribute in pride, and in gratitude.
I appreciate Chuck Canterbury's leadership and his friendship. I also want to thank Aliza Clark. I appreciate Jim Pasco as the executive director of the Fraternal Order of the Police, who has worked hard to make this a special event for those who grieve.
I want to thank my friend, the Attorney General, John Ashcroft. He's doing a great job on behalf of the American people. I appreciate FBI Director Mueller, other members of my administration. I want to thank Duke Cunningham and other members of Congress who have joined us.
I also thank all the family members who have come to Washington for this service. For each of you, there is a name on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial that will always stand apart. You feel the hurt of loss and separation, but I hope that you don't feel alone. A lot of people are praying for you, and you can know today that our nation will always remember the one you loved.
They were among the more than 800,000 men and women who serve as officers of the law in the United States. On the wall are the names of U.S. marshals and county sheriffs, deputies, state patrolmen, municipal police, federal agents, Coast Guard officers, and others who are in the business of protecting their fellow citizens. America's men and women in law enforcement carry different responsibilities and serve different jurisdictions. Yet, in all of those jobs, we look for the same basic qualities of character: for personal discipline, alertness of mind, and courage. Our country and our neighborhoods depend on such people. And fortunately for us all, they keep coming forward.
We look for people like Sergeant Jason Pratt of the Omaha Police Department. He was shot last September at the age of 30, while helping a fellow officer pursue a suspect. A colleague said of Sergeant Pratt, "He was always willing to step up and take the point." And when he died, more than 20 police officers were at the hospital with him. As the mayor of the city put it, "Omaha lost one of its protectors, but his family lost much more." Those same words are true in every community, every time an officer of the law is taken from us.
When the innocent need defending, we look for people like Trooper Nik Green, of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, who was shot and killed by a drug dealer resisting arrest. He died on the morning after Christmas on a stretch of highway just over a mile from his home, where he left behind a wife and three young daughters. This good man was also a youth pastor at First Baptist Church, where hundreds of his fellow State Troopers came to pay their final respects. The pastor said of Trooper Green, "He set a standard that we're left challenged by. We're going to hurt for a long, long time."
To bring help in desperate hours, we look for people like Officer Patrick Hardesty of the Tucson Police Department. He was shot and killed by a fleeing suspect in a hit-and-run. Officer Hardesty had seen danger before, during his 20 years as a United States Marine. He is survived by his wife, their three children, and comrades who say they thought of him more as a brother than a friend. A colleague said of Officer Hardesty, "Even before he became a good cop, he was a really good man."
These are the characteristics we honor today; really good men. These officers, and the others we recognize at this service, reported to work not knowing that the day would bring the end of their watch. In the words of a colleague of one fallen officer, "We all take it for granted that they will come back home safe and sound after their shift. Then one day, they don't." That is a part of the heroism of law enforcement -- knowing that the most routine calls can turn suddenly violent. In the worst of moments, that is the heroism that faces danger, and risks all for the safety of strangers. And in every moment, our country is in debt to the men and women in patrol cars, on bikes and on foot, and standing post -- and we must never take them for granted. (Applause.)
The nearness to danger inspires a special loyalty among those who carry a shield and enforce the law. And when one is lost, the family left behind is cared for, and held close, by the brotherhood of law enforcement. In the Memorial, and in countless acts of love and kindness, the fallen are remembered and honored. And this afternoon, on behalf of all Americans, I offer the respect of a grateful nation. Their calling in life was to keep the peace. And we pray they have found the peace in the Almighty God.
May God bless you all. (Applause.)