Memory and Tribute: the Relevance of the NLEM’s Memorial Collection

In the past several weeks, I have spent part of my time focusing on NLEM’s Memorial Collection. Since 1992, visitors to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial have demonstrated their emotional connection to and regard for law enforcement’s fallen by leaving tribute objects. It is those objects—some commonplace, some unique, but all holding meaning for those who left them—that comprise the Museum’s Memorial Collection. Wishing to gain a deeper understanding of this eclectic and evocative collection’s role in our Museum, I have explored some of the ideas that inform American memorial institutions.
The July/August 2007 issue of Museum News published an interview with Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founding chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Wiesel reflected on the nature of memory and memorials, speaking powerfully of the need to maintain the threads connecting us to those lost and to the events surrounding that loss. He said,
I believe—and I still do, in spite of everything—that memory is a shield. If we remember what people can do to each other, then we can help those who tomorrow may be threatened by the same enemy to do something. . . . I believe that he or she who listens to a survivor becomes a witness.
This quote resonates with me, because it speaks to the relevance and importance of such institutions of the NLEM and the NLEOMF. For me, the objects in the Memorial Collection are physical reminders that help me understand the importance of the sacrifices they memorialize. The objects left as tribute serve to express the memory of past sacrifice and can serve to remind the larger community of witnesses of the vital role that law enforcement has in civil society.