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Last widow hopes police memorial adds no names

Silence dominates ceremony honoring city's fallen officers
by: Jennifer Hardin Names of the 26 fallen Portland police officers hang from a staff during the annual memorial ceremony honoring those who died while on duty.

The plaintive call of a solo bugle playing Taps drifted across Waterfront Park last week. To the joggers huffing by along Southwest Naito Parkway and the mothers pushing their children in strollers, the ceremony must have appeared at odds with the setting on a mild spring afternoon.

During the course of an hour, an 11-member police bagpipe brigade in Scottish regalia played and marched slowly toward a tented platform that backed up to the parkway. An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute from a grassy knoll in the park. Police motorcycles with their attendant officers were lined up at an angle and the mounted horse patrol stood nearby.

The annual ceremony commemorated Portland police officers who have died while on duty.

In a short speech, Mayor Sam Adams made note of the 26 officers who have died on duty through the years, and the 22 wives, one husband and 41 children they have left behind. Occasionally, the rumble of a truck on Naito forced the 75 or so in attendance to listen a little harder, and the din of expressway noise from Interstate 5 across the river served as a distant reminder of the activity in the world outside.

With dozens of officers in pressed and polished dress uniforms standing stiff, the silence of long pauses between speakers carried its message as clearly as the words that were spoken. The air carried an extra measure of stillness after the bagpipe brigade finished Amazing Grace, as if collectively one giant breath had been held.

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TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JENNIFER HARDIN • Alison Kendig (above, center), wife of the last Portland police officer to die while on duty, represents the 22 wives, one husband and 41 children who have lost loved ones over the years. Portland holds an annual memorial ceremony to honor those fallen officers.

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Outside noises seemed to disappear in a concentrated quiet as family members placed individual roses next to markers honoring the fallen Portland police officers.

The last rose was placed on a marker honoring Kirk Huffstetler. It was set in place by a woman - Alison Kendig - who was both the same and different as the person who took part in the same ceremony last year.

Kendig was the wife of the last Portland police officer killed on duty. Her husband, Kirk, was killed in a May 2002 car accident on North Marine Drive while responding to a call.

Each year, Kendig and her children attend the ceremony. But this year, there was a gold wedding band on her ring finger. The woman who refers to herself as 'the last widow' has remarried and changed her name, moving on without forgetting.

The ceremony, so ritualized, has never been the same year to year for Kendig. The first couple of years after her husband's death, she felt numb while in attendance. Since then, she says, 'I just every year keep my fingers crossed that we don't add any more names.'

There were no names added this year. Alison Kendig, once Alison Huffstetler, is still the last widow. That fact is not lost on the afternoon's speakers, who mix in words such as gratitude and thankfulness along with honor and sacrifice. For whatever reason, Portland police have managed a remarkable record of officer safety in recent years.

Long after the public officials, police officers and Kendig with her daughter had left for a late luncheon at Police Bureau headquarters, and the last of the folding chairs was being removed from the park, the hum of cars speeding along the metal grating of the Hawthorne Bridge above precisely matched the mournful undertone of the bagpipes' final notes, keeping in the air a memory of the sound, and the silence, of the afternoon's proceedings.