TOPICS > Politics

Remembering Fallen Heroes

July 28, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the Capitol mourns two policemen killed there last Friday. Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The caskets arrived at the capitol just after 7 AM. Within a half hour the somber mood turned tense when capitol police discovered a suspicious object on a golf cart just outside the capitol.

SGT. DAN NICHOLS, Capitol Police Spokesman: We called in U.S. Capitol police, Hazardous Devices Section, and he came up and did a preliminary investigation and determined there was nothing of a hazardous nature found.

KWAME HOLMAN: The object turned out to be a cooler. Then police allowed the silent line of tourists, congressional staff, and police officers from various forces to enter the capitol. People reached out spontaneously to embrace uniformed police officers, offering words of support and appreciation. Inside, they walked slowly past the caskets of the only capitol police officers ever to be killed defending this building and its occupants. The public viewing session ended, and a few moments before noon congressional leaders entered the rotunda, followed by most of the membership of both Houses. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay wiped his eye as members silently ringed the flag-draped casket. DeLay’s office was the site of the shoot out’s final moments, which took the life of Detective John Gibson, a long-time member of the DeLay’s security detail.

Fellow Texan Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, like nearly every member, took time to offer condolences to DeLay. Legislators, who sometimes were the most bitter partisans on the House floor, today hugged each other and wept. After a break, members reconvened for the memorial service. They were joined by former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Then the President arrived, completing the roll call of the nation’s top elected leadership gathered to honor Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson. The officers’ families were escorted to chairs near the caskets. Several wreaths were laid, including one by the President. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott spoke first.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: Members of the Chestnut family, members of the Gibson family, and members of the capitol police force of the United States of America, this is truly a very emotional moment for the United States Congress family. We share the pain and the suffering of this family. We struggle to find a way to express our feeling of grief and sorrow and appreciation at the same time. These two men have proven that they are the very best of friends, because they have paid the ultimate price.

SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House.

REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: I wanted to suggest to you that in passing your husbands and your fathers had, in fact, brought together this nation, that their devotion to duty, their sacrifice to defend freedom, their commitment of their life, both on a daily basis and at the crisis that occurred on Friday, has, in fact, reminded millions and millions of people that while this is the center of freedom in the world and this building is the centerpiece of freedom in our constitutional system, it only lasts as long as there is courage.

And so, in part, on behalf of the family of freedom worldwide, on behalf of all Americans, and on behalf of the congressional family, I want to say to both families, that your sacrifice is a painful but real building block of freedom and that for the rest of your lives you will, in fact, know from people you see all around the country and all around the world that your husbands and your fathers did not die in vain; they, in fact, died in duty to the very freedom that each of us cherishes.

SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Today we honor two watchmen who guarded not just a building but an ideal, men who lived and labored not only to keep our democracy free from harm but to keep it free and open to all our people. So many times upon entering this building, I’ve been greeted by Officer Chestnut standing proudly at his post.

So many times as I have walked through this Rotunda, I’ve been accompanied and guarded by Detective Gibson and the protective detail on which he served. And I know I’m not alone among those who are here today in thinking how fragile is the safety and security we take for granted, how thin the blue lines these brave men and women have drawn for us here in the Capitol and in every American community.

SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: To the Chestnut and Gibson families and my fellow Americans, the Bible defines a good life thusly: “To love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Officer J.J. Chestnut and Detective John Gibson loved justice. The story of what they did here on Friday in the line of duty is already a legend. And we thank their families for enduring the pain and extra burden of joining us here today–for they remind us that what makes our democracy strong is not only what Congress may enact or a president may achieve; even more, it is the countless individual citizens who live our ideals out every day, the innumerable acts of heroism that go unnoticed, and, especially, it is the quiet courage and uncommon bravery.

They make it seem so ordinary, so expected, asking for no awards or acknowledgment, that most of us do not always appreciate– indeed, most of the time we do not even see — their daily sacrifice. Until crisis reveals their courage, we do not see how truly special they are. And so they walked humbly. To the Gibsons, to Lyn, Kristen, Jack, and Danny, to the Chestnuts, Wen Ling, Joseph, Janice, Janet, Karen, and William, to the parents, the brothers, the siblings, the friends here — you always knew that John and J.J. were special. Now the whole world knows as well. Today we mourn their loss and we celebrate their lives. Our words are such poor replacements for the joys of family and friends, the turning of the seasons, the rhythms of normal life that should rightfully have been theirs. But we offer them to you from a grateful nation, profoundly grateful that in doing their duty they saved lives, they consecrated this house of freedom, and they fulfilled our Lord’s definition of a good life. They loved justice. They did mercy. Now, and forever, they walk humbly with their God.

SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the chief of the United States Capitol Police, Gary L. Abrecht.

CHIEF GARY ABRECHT, U.S. Capitol Police: While what we say here will soon be forgotten, the memory of the heroic actions of Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson will become as timeless as the building in which they died.

KWAME HOLMAN: The bodies of both Capitol police officers will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery later this week.