The Memorial Door


Shots fired at the Document Door. This was some 50 feet from where I was sitting. Two U.S. Capitol Police officers were down.

Their names were Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. Between them, they had eight children and 36 years on the job.

Chestnut was just months from retirement. He fell first. Gibson had the chance to return fire. He died a little later on.

These men and women are fixtures in the Capitol. They are family to us. And on this day — this very day, 17 years ago — they saved lives.

A gunman entered the United States Capitol — the busiest symbol of democracy in the world — on a Friday, in the summer tourist season, in the busiest legislative season. And only one civilian was injured.

We now call it the Memorial Door. That day, I was having a meeting with my staff across the hall. A right turn instead of a left turn, and what unfolded could have been very different.

Entering the Memorial Door with Capitol Police officers in 2011. Sergeant Clinton J. Holtz. (left), died on duty last year.

These days, it’s the door I use to enter the Capitol. And when I do, to my left is a plaque that honors Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson.

One floor above, in the Rotunda, they became the first police officers to lay in honor in the Rotunda — a space normally reserved for presidents. Chestnut was the first African-American to attain this tribute. The second was Rosa Parks.

What happened here can, and too often has, happened anywhere. The plaque is a marker of the thin blue line that separates good from evil and life from death.

Today, I ask all who visit, work, or serve at the Capitol to take a moment to remember Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson. And to think of their wives and their children. And to thank the men and women of the United States Capitol Police. And to consider the verse:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”