Strength and Honor: The Legacy of Those Left Behind
Remarks as delivered.
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here.
I want to begin by thanking Dianne Bernhard and Madeline Neumann and their colleagues at COPS. You help families rebuild their lives. You provide a shared community for those who know what it means to lose someone. We couldn’t do what we do without all of you.
We are here this week because we believe in law enforcement. We believe in what these individuals represent. We believe in what they do, every single day, in every city, and on every street corner.
I feel very fortunate, because I have a front row seat to watch the work of these amazing men and women. People from all walks of life, who took the oath because they were inspired to protect the innocent and to uphold the rule of law.
They took that oath because they wanted to do work with moral content. They wanted to do good for a living.
That kind of selflessness is both rare and wonderful. But it can obscure your heartbreak. It can obscure that dull ache that will never fully disappear. Here is what I mean by that.
Yes, we have lost one of our own. Communities have lost a protector. Young people have lost a mentor.
But you have lost someone who meant the world to you. The gift you were given as a parent; the soulmate you chose as your spouse. The one who shared your secrets and helped shoulder your burdens.
For the youngest among you, you have lost a parent who would have helped shape your life in a million different ways.
Someone who would have helped you navigate life’s twists and turns. Someone who would have celebrated your wins and helped you take the setbacks in stride.
On the National Law Enforcement Memorial website, there are messages from loved ones to those they have lost.
In one posting, a mother writes to her son. In her words, “It’s been a year since you’ve been gone, but we love you so much, it’s hard to let go, especially that impish grin that meant, ‘You’d better watch out.’ Or fighting about whose kitchen it really was. I keep wishing the door would open and you would walk in.”
A wife writes, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years …. Your little girls have grown into beautiful women. Brooke is a wonderful wife and mother to her little family. Bailey is getting ready to get married and start vet school. … You would be so proud of them.”
A son writes to his father, “Missing you today and every day. Your grandkids would love you to pieces if they met you. I can’t believe it’s been 21 years.”
These messages are proof that life goes on, but that loss does not disappear. There can be no closure in that regard.
These messages remind us of why we do what we do, and who we are sworn to serve and protect. And we, in turn, must let those left behind know they are not forgotten, and that they will always be part of our family.
* * *
In our culture we have perpetrated a myth—that being brave means being not afraid. But that’s wrong. As Mark Twain said, bravery is “resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”
Every single person in this room knows the life of law enforcement. The blood of law enforcement runs through your veins. It beats in your hearts.
You know that your loved ones were brave. But you also know that sometimes, they were scared.
Only a crazy person wouldn’t fear approaching a car with tinted windows during a late-night car stop. Or pounding up a flight of stairs to execute a search warrant. Or running straight into hostile fire.
Law enforcement officers feel that fear in their stomachs. But you know the difference between them and most folks? They do it anyway. And they do it willingly.
What makes their bravery so extraordinary is that they know what they are in for. They are men and women who spend weeks in an academy learning how dangerous this work is. And then they raise their right hands and take the job anyway.
But what we often overlook is the bravery of every single parent, spouse, sibling, and child of a law enforcement officer. Men, women, and children who know what it means—and what it takes—to share their lives with someone in law enforcement. Men, women, and children who have a perfect sense of the danger their loved ones face, and who choose to endure it because they, too, believe in the work we do.
There is a phrase we hear when we lose one of our own: “Vires et Honorem.” It means “Strength and Honor.” It refers to those we have lost. But it should include each one of you.
You all know what it means to be scared beyond belief. You have felt that fear, deep down in your stomach. But you have shown the greatest strength in moving forward, step by step, day by day.
Vires et Honorem.
Strength in binding together your families against heartbreak and loss. Strength in standing by other families who are living their own worst nightmare.
You hold the honor that comes from sharing your loved one with all of us. The honor that comes from waking up each morning with the heaviest of hearts, but still living the fullest of lives.
You are strong.
You are honorable.
And you are brave beyond measure.
The legacies of those we have lost live on, through all of you, and through their fellow officers across the country and around the world.
Those legacies live on through communities that are safer and stronger because of the work they did. They live on when criminals no longer hold good neighborhoods hostage … when children walk home from school without fear.
We will continue the work they began, but we will not forget.
We will recover, but we will not forget.
We will move forward, but we will not forget.
That is my promise to each one of you—and it will be the FBI’s promise for as long as we have breath in our lungs.
Thank you for allowing me to share this week with you.