Names upon names rolled forward, into the gentle breeze swaying tulip beds.
In front of Old Main on Tuesday, five local law enforcement officers took turns solemnly acknowledging the 105 officers, sheriffs, troopers, detectives and agents nationwide, including four Pennsylvanians, who died in the line of duty last year.
Their names were read during the Centre County Law Enforcement Memorial, held in honor of National Police Week this week.
“Today, we gather to respect, honor and remember with heavy hearts those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities,” said David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business at Penn State.
“We offer our deepest sympathies to the family members of these courageous officers, and we hold them in our collective hearts as we grieve their loss.”
Cheryl Vonada, of Walker Township, felt emotional afterward.
She didn’t know any of the officers who died of natural causes or were killed while in uniform.
But she thought of one young man in particular.
Her 22-year-old son, Luke Vonada, just started an internship with the Spring Township police. He’s heading into his senior year at Penn State-Altoona, pursuing a criminal justice degree in hopes of becoming a police officer.
“I am very proud of him, very excited for him, and yet very nervous,” his mother said.
She said she took a break from work in Old Main and attended the ceremony “just to show my support for the police officers who have given everything, and the families who have given everything.”
Hearing the roll call of names, she said, was “a reality check.”
“It is, to put myself in the position of the other mothers, wives, sisters and friends,” Vonada said.
Monday’s ceremony drew local, state, federal and Penn State law enforcement officers to remember their fallen comrades. Officers from New Hampshire and elsewhere, in town for training, also attended.
The State College Police Department provided a ceremonial honor guard, and the Centre County Law Enforcement Rifle Team delivered a 21-gun salute.
“We gather today to attempt the impossible: How do we sufficiently honor law enforcement officers who gave their lives protecting our communities?” said state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, the keynote speaker.
“I don’t even know where to begin, to be honest. The sacrifice given by these fallen officers leaves an indelible mark that impacts on all of us.”
For him, Corman said, that mark is an appreciation for public service because police officers put themselves at risk for the sake of the public.
“These men and women have shown what public service is, and I’m a better public servant because of their example,” Corman said.
“Without the duty the men and women of law enforcement undertake, our communities, our sense of community, would cease to exist.”
Gray also recognized the service of law enforcement officers, something he said is easy to take for granted.
“They spend many weekends, holidays, away from their families in order to safeguard ours,” he said. “Tragically, they sometimes don’t make it home to their own families.”
As part of the ceremony, Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem read a county proclamation honoring police officers.
Bagpiper Charlie Tricou played “Amazing Grace” after the roll call. While the State College police color guard trumpeter played taps, officers in attendance saluted.
Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham concluded the memorial by noting that the fallen officers died during a variety of situations: drug busts, domestic fights, traffic stops.
For police, he said, “There really is no routine day, routine call.”
“We really just don’t know what we’re going to confront,” Parham said. “So we really do appreciate everyone who came today.”