‘Carved on these walls is the story of America,

of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”

President George H.W. Bush

I stop at the National Law Enforcement Memorial, where these words are carved, whenever I am in Washington, D.C., so that I can pay my respects to a friend whose name is inscribed there.

Senior Special Agent Thomas J. Williams, of the U.S. Border Patrol, died in the line of duty on Oct. 20, 1998.

While serving as sheriff, I came to know Tom as a young man, when he was growing up in Scales Mound and trying to decide on what field of law enforcement he should pursue as a career. He chose the Border Patrol, where he excelled and was well respected, not only by his colleagues, but also by the citizens he was sworn to protect and serve.

At Tom’s funeral in Scales Mound, Border Patrol agents from every part of our nation and other members of law enforcement came together with Tom’s family and friends to celebrate and honor the life of an American hero. For those who were there it is a memory etched into our minds forever.

As the 20th anniversary of Tom’s death approaches, and I think of the sacrifice he made, I also can’t help but think of the stories that have become all too common in the news of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, oftentimes ambushed and murdered, who also made the ultimate sacrifice.

What has happened to our nation that has caused such hostility and hatred toward the men and women of law enforcement?

I will not dispute that there have been situations where a very small percentage of police officers have violated the law and acted criminally. These are the cases we hear about in the news. There would not be enough room in the press to report the good that police officers do each day. These officers know that every day they could be faced with life-and-death situations, either for themselves or someone else.

They will also have the privilege of being the one responsible for making a difference in someone’s day. Although none of us knows when our last day will be, how many of us wake up each morning and go to work thinking this could be our last day because of the uniform we have chosen to wear and what we have chosen to sacrifice for the good of others?

Who could even begin to fathom the chaos that would ensue if not for these men and women of law enforcement who go to work each day to serve and protect?

Tom, as so many other fallen officers, left behind family and friends who continue to mourn the life of an officer gone too soon.

He was a husband, father, son, brother and friend who left behind his new wife, Emma, and the baby they were expecting, as well as other family and friends who, although they suffer the loss, continue in their support and respect for all law enforcement officers as a way to honor Tom’s life and the career he chose.

Tom’s brother asked that this column be about more than Tom and the sacrifice he made, that it be about the respect that all law enforcement officers deserve and oftentimes don’t receive.

And so in memory and honor of my friend, Special Agent Thomas J. Williams, U.S. Border Patrol, EOW Oct. 20, 1998, and all fallen officers, and as a show of respect for those currently serving, I ask that the next time you encounter a law enforcement officer, regardless of the situation, you thank them for their dedication and service.

“In valor there is hope.” — Tacitus

The author served as sheriff of Jo Daviess County (Ill.) for 19 years, from December 1986 to December 2005. He currently serves in the schools as a substitute teacher.

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