Washington, DC - It’s been 20 years since the Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people and injured close to 700 in what was the worst terrorist attack on United States soil prior to 9/11. Yet, for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Special Agent and National Honor Guard member Michael McMahon, the memories of that day still stand out in his mind.
“The people out there were magnanimous in the way they greeted and treated us. There were strong people in Oklahoma City,” McMahon said. “I was deeply touched by what they endured and how people accepted us. That stands out to this day in my memories.”
McMahon traveled to Oklahoma City immediately following the attacks to be with the families and loved ones and those who were killed in the attack. Alongside clergy and agency directors, McMahon mingled with people throughout every stage of the funerals. It’s a role he’s embraced as a member of the honor guard since 1994. McMahon, currently assigned to Fort Myers, Florida, has traveled around the world honoring the service of special agents and officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
However, at the end of this year, McMahon, along with fellow honor guard member, Special Agent Edwin Perez, will be retiring after a combined 40-plus years of service.
“It’s been a bittersweet feeling,” McMahon said of his pending retirement. “It’s been a long journey and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I know the families [over the years] have appreciated us being there.”
On the other hand, Perez, assigned to Miami, is still coming to grips that his service is coming to an end.
“It’s a little unnerving in the fact that now I’m going to be completing a career that I’ve been doing for 20-plus years,” Perez said.
McMahon and Perez were in Washington, D.C. for National Police Week. The two were presented a token of appreciation for their service by HSI Deputy Executive Associate Director Derek Benner at ICE headquarters. As HSI National Honor Guard members, in addition to honoring the fallen, they have represented the agency at formal events and ceremonies often at a moment’s notice, leaving lifelong impressions on families and loved ones during their difficult time.
“The personal touch that we give those families is the best we can do for the situation they’re in,” Perez said.
While at headquarters, they both took time to talk about their various experiences. The highs, lows and impact they’ve had on families and loved ones. For as strong as they have to be for families, both men acknowledged the human element that comes with the role. At times, McMahon and Perez have had to fight to keep their own composure while helping others do the same.
“You never get cold to it,” McMahon said. “You experience it and you feel it every single time and of course I have feelings for those who are enduring it.”
HSI National Honor Guard members often go above and beyond what other honor guards do with services for families adding a more personal touch to their interaction. The HSI National Honor Guard adheres to the family’s request of service for their loved ones.
McMahon and Perez have seen various changes from uniforms to administrations to official name changes. But in all their experiences, what they’ve done for families in their 20-plus years of honor guard service, is what they will remember most as they head into retirement.
“This is something that I’ve done from the bottom of my heart to help the families go through their grieving process,” Perez said. “Although it is sad to understand that they’ve lost a loved one, it does help them to know that the honor guard is there to represent the fallen.”