A phalanx of snapping flags on Capitol Hill beat an irregular rhythm Thursday, as a color guard signaled the beginning of a ceremony to honor fallen Utah police officers.
Four officers carrying U.S. and Utah flags marched into the Law Enforcement Memorial amphitheater past a crowd that included dozens of police, a number of mourners, and the wife and three young sons of Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Aaron Robert Beesley.
Beesley died June 30, 2012, rescuing two stranded hikers on Mount Olympus. He was a major focus of attention Thursday, and near the end of the service a plaque bearing his name was added to a wall honoring Utah police officers who have died in the line of duty.
Government and law enforcement officials dedicated the wall in 2008 after a smaller memorial inside the Capitol was removed during renovations. The memorial service is held yearly and includes special emphasis on any officers who have died during the preceding 12 months.
Thursday's service took place under clear skies, with a cool breeze rolling down the hill. Speakers included Jessica Orr, daughter of fallen Uintah County sheriff's detective Kevin Orr, ULEM president Clarke Christensen and Beesley's mother, Laretta Beesley.
Laretta Beesley focused her remarks on motherhood, listing the names of other fallen officers and expressing her belief that they will be reunited with their parents in the next life. Still, she added, she sometimes looks up at law enforcement helicopters and wonders what her son who loved to tinker and worked in the UHP's aeronautics bureau would be doing if he were still alive.
"No parent ever wants to bury a child," Laretta went on to say.
Kevin Orr died in a helicopter crash while searching for a missing woman Nov. 22, 2006, in Jensen.
Beesley's widow, Kristie, didn't speak during the event but received a framed purple heart and several quilts sewn by the Utah Quilt Guild.
Following remarks from Gov. Gary Herbert who expressed gratitude for "those who step out front" to protect the public Kristie walked to the front of the memorial and helped affix her husband's plaque to the wall. Her three sons an 8-year-old and 5-year-old twins clustered around the plaque, their matching white dress shirts beaming in the sun.
After the service, Kristie said she and her young family still struggle with the loss, though they try to remember Beesley while doing little things around the home. His favorite drink was Pepsi, she explained, so he comes up "whenever we have pop," as well as other times.
"Some days are hard," she added, "but the good days outweigh the bad."
Kristie also said she takes comfort in knowing the people her husband helped during his 13-year career, including Emily Nitz, the woman Beesley rescued the night he died.
The 32-year-old Nitz who was on the mountain with her personal trainer said after the memorial service that she was frightened and embarrassed during the rescue but Beesley was patient with her.
"He just reassured me the whole time," she said. "He said, 'Don't be embarrassed, it happens all the time.' "
Nitz added that services like the one held Thursday are important, and beautiful, because they stress the importance of not taking for granted the sacrifices of law enforcement.
Just before the service ended, a solitary uniformed officer played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. When he finished, officers from agencies all over Utah stood straight-backed at attention as the Utah Highway Patrol Honor Guard fired three shots in salute. When they finished, the officers many of whom sported black bands over their badges saluted as a bugler played taps.