Lockerbie victims honored

December 22, 1993|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- George H. Williams of Joppa moved

through the crowd to the front row where the president was inching along, shaking hands, looking into one face of grief after another. Mr. Williams waited, then told his story again, this time to the president of the United States.

"My son was in the Army," began Mr. Williams, shaking Mr. Clinton's hand. The president clenched his jaw, nodded his head and listened to Mr. Williams, whose son, an Army first lieutenant, was one of 270 people killed when a terrorist bomb exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland five years ago yesterday.

Mr. Clinton had just delivered an eight-minute address at the dedication of the site in Arlington National Cemetery where a monument will be built to the bomb victims, 259 of whom were in the plane, the rest on the ground.

The victims included eight people from Maryland: Michael S. Bernstein, Jay J. Kingham, Karen E. Noonan, Anne L. Otenasek, Anita L. Reeves, Louise A. Rogers, George W. Williams, Miriam L. Wolfe.

Construction of the monument -- a 10-foot tower built of 270 blocks of sandstone donated by the people of Scotland -- is expected to begin by spring. It will be built in the style of a traditional Scottish cairn.

"Our nation will never stop pursuing justice against those who caused" the explosion, Mr. Clinton told the crowd yesterday morning, referring to the two Libyans indicted by the United States. Libya has faced U.N. sanctions for refusing to deport the men for trial.

Mr. Clinton made no reference to weekend news reports implicating Syria and Iran in the attack. In pursuit of Middle East peace, Mr. Clinton is due to meet Syria's President Hafez al-Assad during a European trip next month.

Mr. Clinton told the crowd he considered the bombing, which killed 189 Americans, "an attack on America," and said he has demanded tougher sanctions against Libya. "As long as this monument stands," said Mr. Clinton, "take comfort in the knowledge that your nation stands behind you."

Then he asked for a moment of silence. When the president took up a shovel to break the rain-softened ground, a bagpiper in plaid kilt and tam-o'-shanter struck up "Amazing Grace."

The pipes ceased. Mr. Williams and others in the crowd rose and moved toward the front row. Many are members of The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a New Jersey organization, who in the last five years have spent days traveling to Washington for hearings, meetings with members of Congress, visits to possible sites for a memorial. The explosion turned them into activists.

John Zwynenburg, of West Nyack, N.Y., whose 28-year-old son, Mark, was killed in the explosion, said yesterday was his seventh trip to Washington since the bombing. Now co-chairman of the Victims' committee in charge of the memorial, the retired IBM executive stood before the ceremony handing out press packets to reporters.

"There's some satisfaction" in the plan to build the monument, said Mr. Zwynenburg. "It is a comfort sort of thing."

He remained composed as he spoke about the 19-month effort to get Congress to adopt a joint resolution to erect the memorial in Arlington, the search for a site, the continuing campaign to raise some $300,000 in private donations to build the memorial. But when the question turned to Dec. 21, 1988, his emotion rushed to the surface.

"I heard about it in the afternoon," said Mr. Zwynenburg. "We were not sure if he was on the flight. Then we got a call from the London police. . . . We didn't give up until 2 o'clock in the morning," he said, and sobbed.

"I used to cry a lot," he said. "You don't do it a couple of years, then it happens."

Mr. Williams showed no emotion as he spoke briefly with the president, who remained for nearly an hour after the ceremony talking with relatives and friends of the victims.

"I told [Mr. Clinton] that while I'm a conservative, he has done more for us in his short time than the previous administration," said Mr. Williams, praising Mr. Clinton's efforts on behalf of the memorial and tougher sanctions against Libya.

Mr. Williams spared Mr. Clinton the details of how he and his wife, Judy, heard of the explosion on the evening news, then spent the next five hours trying to learn the fate of their 24-year-old son, Lt. George W. Williams, who was stationed in West Germany. They didn't know their son was on the plane, as he had originally planned to take an earlier flight. He missed that one and instead boarded Flight 103.

A retired postal worker, Mr. Williams, 62, spends much of his time working as vice president of The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

"I have to do this for my son," he said. "They murdered my son. He'll never come back. I'll never heal. My life's work is now anti-terrorism."

The memorial is being paid for entirely with private money. Donations may be sent to The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, 135 Algonquin Parkway, Whippany, N.J. 07891.

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