A simple but elegant wall in an otherwise nondescript federal building in Washington now serves as a memorial to government employees killed in the line of duty.
Fifty-two silver stars, one for each state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, are flanked by two American flags under the inscription: “In grateful memory of federal civilian employees who gave their lives for our country.” It is the first time fallen civilian employees across the executive branch will be honored with a memorial.
“The people that we remember today loved their country. They loved their neighbors. They loved their nation,” said John Berry, the outgoing director of the Office of Personnel Management, during a Thursday afternoon ceremony at the agency to unveil the Wall of Honor. “They rose each morning, and whether they pinned a badge over their hearts, or faced danger unexpectedly, they ended up the day laying down their lives in our service.”
Berry read the names of civilian employees killed on the job since 2012. The fallen include Anne Smedinghoff, the 25-year-old State Department employee killed by a suicide bomber earlier this month while delivering books to a school in Afghanistan, and Margaret Anderson, a 34-year-old park ranger with the Interior Department who was fatally shot in 2012 when she set up a road block to intercept a fleeing suspect in Mount Rainier National Park.
“While we often think of the federal government as a monolith confined within the Beltway, most of the people on this wall are not from Washington, D.C.,” Berry said in his remarks. Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce is outside of the nation’s capital.
Berry said OPM will continue to collect the names of the fallen from agencies and update its website regularly with the information. There were 27 names on the agency’s website as of Friday. Many of those killed were employees of Interior and the Homeland Security Department.
Berry, whose last day at the agency was Friday, was joined on Thursday by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. Both lawmakers paid tribute to those employees killed and to the families who lost loved ones. Hoyer described Smedinghoff, an Illinois native, as “a young woman who was full of life and energy and passion for service. She was killed doing the work that we the people of the United States of America asked her to do, the work that she wanted to do, the work that she believed would further the interests of all people.”
A few moments of levity punctuated the solemn occasion, when Hoyer and Wolf praised Berry’s work as OPM director. Wolf called Berry the “best director” OPM has ever had, which prompted loud applause from employees and others gathered in the lobby of the agency. “And, I think he would have made a great secretary of Interior, too,” Wolf added, referring to reports that Berry was interested in that job after his OPM stint ended. The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Sally Jewell as Interior secretary. Berry is reportedly on the short list to be President Obama’s ambassador to Australia.
The popular OPM director, who early in his career worked as a legislative director for Hoyer, called the long-time Maryland Democrat “a mentor and a second father to me.” Hoyer elicited laughs when he described his working relationship with Berry on Capitol Hill. “I worked for him for 10 years,” Hoyer said. “He let me pretend that I was the boss, and I let him tell me what to do.”