By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2005
President Bush paid tribute yesterday to 156 police officers who died in the line of duty last year, as colleagues and families of the fallen gathered under a somber gray sky at the U.S. Capitol for a national day of remembrance.
With the muddy west lawn of the Capitol packed with uniformed men and women from all over the country, the president praised the more than 800,000 Americans who are "willing to stand watch over the rest of us" by policing streets and communities.
"The tradition of sacrifice and service runs strong amongst law enforcement," Bush said in a short speech. "The fallen officers we honor this afternoon honored that tradition of service and sacrifice -- and the flag of the United States of America flies at half-staff today in memory of their courage."
The president was speaking for the fifth time at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service, a tribute to the law enforcement officers who are killed or disabled on the job. Presidents starting with John F. Kennedy have offered tributes to fallen law enforcement officials on May 15, their official day of recognition.
The tone of the day was set by the rain drops falling intermittently and country singer Darryl Worley drawing sturdy men to tears with his song "I Miss My Friend."
"The bonds between officers are strong -- and you look out for each other on sunny mornings and in the shadows of danger," Bush said. "Your loyalty to one another and your service to America do great honor to our system of justice."
The president was joined on stage by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), attending the memorial for the first time, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and several other administration officials.
Two D.C. police officers -- Sgt. John S. Ashley and Sgt. Clifton Rife II -- were among those honored. Rife, 34, was shot and killed by a 16-year-old boy during a robbery attempt June 2 in Oxon Hill. Ashley, 37, collapsed and died of a heart attack a few days earlier while trying to chase down a lost dog in Northwest Washington. Three men from Maryland, Cpl. Duke G. Aaron III, 29, of the Maryland Transportation Authority, Officer Brian Donte Winder, 36, of the Baltimore City Police Department, and Trooper 1st Class Anthony Jones, 50, of the Maryland State Police, were also honored at the event, which drew nearly 10,000 people. No Virginia officers were listed.
"I thank all the family members who are with us today," Bush said. "Our nation is grateful to you. We pray that you find strength to bear the loss. And you can know that our nation will always remember and honor the ones you loved."
Afterward, the president spent nearly two hours signing mementos, embracing officers and their families and posing for pictures.