HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - During an annual Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Memorial sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, the community came together to honor those who were lost in the line of duty.
The ceremony took place at the Madison County courthouse square at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, just days before National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
This is a tradition in Madison County dating back to 1990. The ceremony paid tribute to the 22 officers from various departments who have died during service since 1880.
"It is a tribute to their courage and their sacrifice," said Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray. "They made a choice for others, not for themselves."
Ralph Pabon, Madison Police Animal Control Officer, said, "It is an honor just to be here, alive, and be able to render tribute to our fallen heroes."
That was the attitude Wednesday: somber, reverent, and full of admiration. An officer played bagpipes. Others fired a twenty-one gun salute. Taps echoed across the square.
Fortunately, no new names needed to be added to the Madison County fallen officers memorial wall this year. But this ceremony and time will always be taken for the fallen, and for the living too. The officers recognized the sacrifice families made when they lost their loved ones.
"To see the law enforcement community wrap their arms around them and tell them they love them, and they aren't going to let them go at it alone," commented Madison County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Donny Shaw, who also serves as the event chairman. "That's a really good thing. And I'm going to do it as long as I'm able to."
Families and friends of each of the fallen came to place a flower on a memorial cross in remembrance. Some shed tears as the names of their loved ones, and the dates and circumstances of their deaths, were read to educate the crowd and explain the courage.
Shaw said supporting those families, still hurting, is just what they do.
"We are a law enforcement family. And when somebody dies in the line of duty, we want to memorialize them. And we are going to remember their survivors," said Lt. Shaw. "We are always going to be there for their survivors. We will not turn our backs on them. We will be there hand in hand in any struggle they may have for the rest of their lives."
"You would want someone to be there for your family, so you definitely want to be there for theirs, "said Ricardo McCants, Field Training Officer at the Madison Police Department.
Those who are still able to wear the badge say attending the ceremony and seeing the memorial wall pushes them forward. It makes them all the more proud, and stand taller.
"It's a constant reminder that you need to be vigilant," said McCants. "That when you have the ability to train you train well and you train hard. You never make a routine call. None of them are."
The men and women in uniform who joined the community in paying tribute, know their shared duty comes with a risk. But it's one they choose every day to take, knowing their brothers and sisters will be there should they fall.