Hundreds of citizens and police officers turned out at the Orange County Peace Officers’ Memorial Monument last week to pay tribute to the 53 men and women killed in the line of duty in Orange County since 1912.
The annual candlelight ceremony was held on a chilly Thursday evening at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin, where the monument is located. It was a moving tribute of symbolism, song and prayer.
An officer’s motorcycle sat empty, lights flashing, as the ceremony began. And a blue laser beam blazed over the crowd, representing “the thin blue line,” the final barrier between law and order.
Fifty-three officers and deputies filed solemnly past the crowd, each one representing a man or woman who had been killed in the line of duty, stopping at the plaque on the monument wall bearing that person’s name. Each wore the uniform from whatever branch of law enforcement the person they were representing was a member of.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens drew applause when she told the crowd they would not be placing a new name on the wall this year as no one had died in the line of duty in O.C. the past year.
Joseph Carruth, president of the Sheriff’s Advisory Council, addressed family and friends of the fallen.
“You’ve been called upon to bear a special burden,” he said.
Their loved ones, he continued, “knew fully that one day they may be called upon to lay down their lives. They served and sacrificed for a purpose far greater than themselves…and paid an extraordinary price in the name of public service.”
Los Alamitos Police Chief Eric Nunez told those gathered that he knew “a little bit of the road” they were on. His father was killed in action in Vietnam in 1966 when he was just 4.
He remembers his mother crawling to the bathroom and locking herself in, believing that if she could just prevent the men at the door from delivering their message, it wouldn’t be true.
Friends and family arrived with “condolences, advice and prayers.”
But what follows, he knows all too well, “is the pain, the struggle, the loneliness. The brutal reality that life is changed and will never be the same again.”
Nunez said those who fell while wearing the badge or star “have honored us, and they continue to do so year after year.”
They exemplify that “what we do is truly noble,” he said. “It is good work. It is necessary work.”
Darkness fell at the close of the May 26 ceremony. A recording of the song “Beneath the Badge” played while families and friends were invited to tuck red roses behind the plaques of their loved ones.
The men and women representing the fallen ones filed solemnly out, saluting family members seated in the front row.
Police Explorers and other volunteers lit candles that had been handed out to the crowd. The flickering flames threw shadows on the monument walls as an acoustic guitar player sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“We are all one family, the law enforcement family,” Chief Senior Chaplain for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Kathleen Kooiman said in closing. “Please remember how much we love and need each other.”