All across our nation this Memorial Day, Americans are rightly honoring the roughly 1,300,000 Americans who have died while serving our country in the U.S military since the Revolutionary War.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, their sacrifices break down on the battlefields in most of the U.S. wars in the chart at right.
My sentiment for each and every one of those courageous souls couldn’t be summarized better than by the 20th U.S. president, James Garfield, who gave up his own life through assassination less than a year after becoming president.
About the patriots for whom we commemorate this Memorial Day, President Garfield said, “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Among those inspirational fallen heroes we pay tribute to this holiday weekend, I don’t want us ever to forget or let die in vain our courageous men and women in blue, who fight every day in our own neighborhoods and communities to secure the freedoms and rights that those who gave up their lives on the global battlefields gifted us.
According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund website, “Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1786, more than 21,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
In 2018, 144 federal, state and local law enforcement officers died in the line of duty – a rise from the 129 officers in 2017, according to the group’s year-end report for 2018.
In the first 21 weeks alone of this year, 44 police officers have already paid the ultimate price with 21 of them being shot to death in the line of duty in 14 states. That’s one law enforcement officer every week. That’s ridiculous! One is far too many.
Here are some other facts the NLEOMF website states:
- A total of 1,582 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years, an average of one death every 55 hours or 158 per year. There were 158 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2018.
- According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report 2017 LEOKA report, there have been 60,211 assaults against law enforcement officers in 2017, resulting in 17,476 injuries.
- The 1920s were the deadliest decade in law enforcement history, when a total of 2,480 officers died, or an average of almost 248 each year. The deadliest year in law enforcement history was 1930, when 310 officers were killed. That figure dropped dramatically in the 1990s, to an average of 162 per year.
- The deadliest day in law enforcement history was Sept. 11, 2001, when 72 officers were killed while responding to the terrorist attacks on America.
- New York City Police Department has lost more officers in the line of duty than any other department, with 899 deaths. Texas has lost 1,751 officers, more than any other state. The state with the fewest deaths is Vermont, with 24.
- There are 1,166 federal officers listed on the Memorial, as well as 713 correctional officers and 43 military law enforcement officers.
- There are 348 female officers listed on the Memorial; 11 female officers were killed in 2018.
Far, far more than mere statistics, these are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, true patriots and the best of the best that America has to offer. Please take a moment to look at the photos of these Recently Fallen Heroes, and read about their families and how they ended their watch and service to our country.
An often-overlooked group of mourners on every Memorial Day are the families and friends of those who have perished in the line of duty. As we enjoy memorial services and even picnics on this holiday weekend, let us look to shake the hands of those who have lost such loved ones right in our own community, neighborhoods and churches.
The reason I’m so mindful of that group is because I belong to it, and I’m not alone. There are more and more of those who suffer from the fallout of war all around us. (If that’s you, and you’re looking for a little help or encouragement this Memorial Day or summer, I would encourage you to find a GriefShare group in your community – a fantastic support and educational group for those grieving the loss of loved ones.)
My father fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. I served four years in the Air Force in South Korea. My brother, Aaron, also served in the Army there on the DMZ. Whatever sacrifices we made in our service, however, they pale in significance to our brother, Wieland.
Wieland was killed in action in Vietnam when he walked point alone and drew out enemy fire so that others in his platoon could fight their way out to freedom. Many souls were saved on that day because of my brother’s bravery. He was killed on June 3, 1970, by a single shot to the heart. It shattered our hearts too when we heard about his death, and I still feel it to this day. (My mom wrote a chapter on each of the Norris men, and for the first time tells Wieland’s war story at length in her autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story,” available through my website or Amazon.)
When Wieland was 12 years old, he had a premonition that he would not live to be 28. Wieland died on June 3, 1970, one month before his 28th birthday. I lost my best friend that day, but I will see him again in Heaven.
It’s fitting for a soldier like Wieland that Memorial Day falls every year a week or so before the anniversary day that he gave his life in action. (It was to Wieland that I also dedicated all my “Missing in Action” films.)
For my brother, the over 150 fallen heroes in blue in the last 18 months, and the rest of the one million-plus courageous souls who sacrificed everything for freedom and Old Glory, Gena and I and the rest of our nation salute you and your families. We will never forget your sacrifice, and we are forever reminded by your courage and love that freedom is not – nor ever will be – free.
Abraham Lincoln looked out on the valley of Gettysburg and spoke for all of us about those who fought and died there when he said:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.