Honor: Earned, Never Given — A Tribute to the “Midnight Piper”

A Memorial Fund staffer passed along this email from Sergeant Dan Foley, of the Wyandotte (MI) Police Department, sharing his memories and condolences about the passing of Jimmy O’Connell, the original “Midnight Piper.” Sgt. Foley runs one of the largest Honor Guard training schools in the country and is active at the Memorial each year during National Police Week.

How sad. Can’t begin to express how special of a tribute and tradition this has become, and until now, I never knew the full explanation of how it came to be.

The closing services, midnight at the Memorial is possibly, at least for me and my wife, one of the most special times during our entire week while there in Washington during National Police Week. For some it is the Vigil, for others it is the Capitol services, but for all their pomp and circumstance there is something about this brief and solemn service at closing that really hits home.

It matters not what we are doing, where we are at or the weather, come 11:45 pm, we will be at the Memorial to pay our final respects.

Something about the Memorial at night, the peacefulness, the soft glow of candles and accent lighting, the tributes left, the sound of the reflecting pool, it’s a place of reflection, a place of healing, and a place of honor. And then the sounds of a lone piper as only the sounds the bagpipes can provide will slowly become stronger as he enters the Memorial; passing each and every name on each and every panel until he slowly walks off in to the dark night and the mournful music becomes ever so faint.

For me it never fails, and I am not ashamed to admit it; but it always comes with tears.

Maybe it is the conclusion of a year’s worth of planning or a week’s worth of mixed emotions; tributes, honor, camaraderie, the realization that the week has once again ended, and the uncertainty of what the future will hold for all of us. Will we see each other again next year?

Maybe it is a renewed understanding of just how fortunate I am after my own near death experience of possibly having my name added to one of these panels, and as I sit with my wife I realize just how fortunate I am to have had her support during that time.

I do know one thing. It makes you extremely proud. This simple and yet lightly attended service of a lone piper giving his final tribute. To have been allowed to serve and to be part of possibly the greatest fraternity known to man. Law Enforcement.

I have a saying for our honor guard school…

HONOR: EARNED, NEVER GIVEN

The names on these walls have earned this honor and tribute. We never just “give” it, and while the tradition will be carried on, it is sad to know the originator has passed.