Police and veterans, united in sacrifice

Police and veterans, united in sacrifice

The topics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and sacrifice are usually associated with veterans. The American Legion has done much to raise public awareness about the physical and mental costs that come with service.

There’s another group, too, that is deeply affected by these issues: the men and women of our nation’s law enforcement. Just like our military, they risk their lives for us every day they wear their uniforms. In 2018, more law-enforcement officers died by suicide than in the line of duty.

The American Legion’s founders valued law enforcement so highly that they chose “maintain law and order” as the second principle of our constitution’s preamble. Visit any police precinct and you’ll likely find a higher percentage of veterans than in almost any other occupation.

As a retired lieutenant with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia, I am a staunch supporter of our nation’s peace officers. So is The American Legion. This year, I have visited a number of posts that champion our first responders through financial assistance, award recognition and outstanding youth law cadet programs.

My generation remembers the turbulent ’60s and ’70s, when veterans – especially those who served in Vietnam – were treated with scorn. While the American public seems to have learned some lessons from that era, I fear we’re seeing a revival of that same disrespect today, directed at law enforcement.

Nobody justifies bad police behavior any more than we would justify a war crime. But we must remember the 99 percent of first responders who do their jobs honorably and professionally. Consider that nearly 21,100 names are etched on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

I appreciate President Trump’s remarks at the 38th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on May 15. “The men and women of law enforcement devote their lives to protecting our children, securing our streets and keeping our communities safe,” he said. “Moms and dads can sleep soundly at night, kids can play with neighbors outside and grandparents can feel at peace in their homes because they know America’s officers are the absolute best, and they’re always on the beat.”

Robert McKeithen, an Air Force veteran, served 24 years as an officer with the Biloxi, Miss., Police Department. Two months ago, he was gunned down outside the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center.

Biloxi Police Chief John Miller called McKeithen “an unbelievably fine policeman,” while describing his heroism during Hurricane Katrina. “Robert, with four other officers, was awarded the medal of valor for saving four special-needs children ... who undoubtedly would have perished. I tell you that because I want you to know the kind of man that he was – a fine and decent man, a great policeman, and he served the citizens of Biloxi well,” Miller said.

Officer McKeithen, 58, planned to retire at the end of this year. His end of watch was May 5, 2019. He is survived by his wife, daughter, stepdaughter and two stepsons.

Sometimes there are just no words.