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Honoring the sacrifice

How the National EMS Memorial Weekend of Honor recognizes the fallen

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Photos/Tammy Chatman/NEMSMS

By Tammy L. Chatman

May 19-25 marks the 50-year anniversary of National EMS Week. It was in 1974 that President Gerald Ford designated the third week in May as National EMS Week to honor EMS professionals and the important work they do in serving their communities.

This year’s theme is “Honoring Our Past, Forging Our Future.” As we continue to move forward and EMS faces new challenges, we must pause to remember the sacrifices made too. It is incumbent upon each of us to continue to remember the nearly 1,000 air and ground EMS providers who lost their lives in the service to others.

It was more than 30 years ago that EMT Kevin Dillard and a group from the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads founded the all-volunteer, donation-funded National EMS Memorial Service (NEMSMS) to honor EMS providers who died in the line of duty. The group realized that while there were memorial services for police and fire professionals for line-of-duty-deaths (LODD), there was no formal recognition for EMS providers. Thanks to their efforts, the NEMSMS continues to honor our fallen and supports those they left behind.

With no permanent memorial like those for fallen firefighters and law enforcement personnel, the “Tree of Life” was created as a temporary memorial. It contains individual oak leaves that are etched with the honoree name, agency and date of their last call. Each year, volunteers build additional panels bearing the names of new honorees, adding them to the temporary memorial. At the end of every annual EMS Memorial Service, the panels are respectfully packed and placed into storage until the following year with continued hope for the pending permanent memorial.

In the days leading up to the Weekend of Honor, the newly minted Tree of Life panels are escorted in a specially marked ambulance as it proceeds across the country to Washington, D.C., making solemn stops along the way. This tribute respectfully dubbed “Moving Honors,” has three goals:

  • To bring awareness and additional recognition to the honorees
  • To provide broader access to the Tree of Life
  • In a much smaller capacity, it is an opportunity for fundraising

Not only does EMS lack a permanent national memorial to honor our fallen, but there is also no dedicated source of funding. The NEMSMS struggles more each year to solicit enough donations to host the EMS Memorial Service and Weekend of Honor, and continue their mission to honor and recognize those EMS professionals who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

To establish a steady and reliable source of funding, the board recently announced the REMEMBERship program. According to Scott Davis, National EMS Memorial Service president, “The REMEMBERship program allows anyone a straightforward way to be an integral part of our efforts for fallen EMS providers. It also provides honorees’ friends, colleagues and loved ones a means to enrich their legacy.” For those who would like to sign up or want additional information on the REMEMBERship program, click here.

2024 National EMS Memorial Weekend of Honor

This year, the NEMSMS and Weekend of Honor will be held July 18-21 at the Crystal City Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Virginia, with events throughout the weekend, several of which are open to the media and the public. Thirty-six EMS and air medical professionals from 18 states will be honored during the events.

On Thursday, when the Moving Honors ambulance arrives in Washington, it will make a brief stop at the U.S. Capitol, where officials will gather on the Capitol steps to honor the EMS fallen.

Friday afternoon, the arrival of the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride’s Ride of Honor officially kicks off the Weekend followed by a ceremony and presentation of honoree dog tags to the loved ones. This is just one of the emotionally powerful parts of the Weekend as the riders meet the loved ones of the honoree they rode for and give them one of the two dog tags they have carried during the ride.

The formal National EMS Memorial Service is held on Saturday evening and is open to the media and public. The NEMSMS begins with the pre-ceremonial candle lighting, invocation and presentation of colors by the National EMS Memorial Honor Guard.

During the Service, loved ones come to the stage when their honoree’s name is called. There, honor guard members present an American flag flown over the nation’s capital denoting the honoree’s service to their country, a white rose signifying undying love, and a National EMS Memorial Service medallion inscribed with the honoree’s name and date of their last call, representing their EMS service and eternal memory. Following the presentation of commemoratives, the National EMS Moment of Silence is held simultaneously within the Service and with agencies participating across the U,S. The retirement of colors by the honor guard and a Candlelight Remembrance Ceremony concludes the tribute.

Each year, the Weekend of Honor is attended by growing numbers of EMS providers and others who come to pay their respects. Heartfelt comments from the families of the fallen motivate the organizers to encourage even more of them to attend. Those who do come find healing and peace from the experience, just like the loved ones of the honorees.

Some wonder why this is important. We share with permission, thoughts from Gertrude Loadholt, mother of previous honoree, Coley Loadholt, Jr., who so eloquently put it all into perspective, “It was in their DNA, and they had no choice, it is something they had do and even if we (those who love them) wanted to, we could not have changed them, even knowing the outcome. They loved what they did.” She finds peace in that today following her experience at the Weekend of Honor, where her son was inducted.

About the author
Tammy L. Chatman is the public information officer and photographer for the National EMS Memorial Service (NEMSMS). She has served in this role for over 10 years. Tammy began volunteering with the NEMSMS following the helicopter crash that killed three colleagues and friends from a neighboring flight program. For 30 years, Tammy was the professional relations/marketing manager and public information officer for the Flight for Life Transport System headquartered in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She was active regionally and nationally in the air medical industry in media relations, safety and customer service during that time.

Currently she is the chief communications officer for Lake County Government in Illinois.