Clinton eulogizes 19 killed in blast in Saudi Arabia 'We stand with you in sorrow' president tells mourners in Fla.

July 01, 1996|By NEWSDAY

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- In somber tones of vengeance, compassion and moral teaching, President Clinton delivered eulogies at two military facilities yesterday to lead national mourning for the 19 American airmen killed by a truck bomb in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

"We stand with you in sorrow and in outrage," Clinton told 167 grieving relatives of the 12 dead airmen who were based here, during a memorial service attended by 3,000 in an immense hangar. "They were taken before their time, felled by the hands of hatred, in an act whose savagery is matched only by its cowardice. We will not rest in our efforts to capture, prosecute and punish those who committed this evil deed."

With two F-15C Eagles of the slain men's 33rd Fighter Wing parked behind him, Clinton devoted most of his spare, eight-minute remarks to praising the dead as "quiet American heroes" whose passion for their mission matched their citizenship as soccer coaches, Sunday school teachers and volunteer firefighters.

Committing the nation to stand fast against terrorism, Clinton implicitly equated the dangers armed forces personnel face overseas with the threats posed by church bombings and other domestic outrages. "Every American must stand against violence and hatred, and stand for dignity and tolerance, at home as well as abroad," he said.

Three hospitalized victims of Tuesday's blast were carried from ambulances on stretchers to hear Clinton. Eight of the walking wounded, some with heads swathed in bandages, also were given places of honor. "We thank God for your presence here today," Clinton said.

The president read aloud the names of the 12 enlisted technicians from Eglin who were killed, his voice faltering as he said, "May God embrace their souls." Four F-15s roared overhead in the "missing man" formation.

Second service

Later, in a smaller service for 700 mourners at Patrick Air Force Base, home of the 71st Rescue Squadron near the Cape Canaveral space center, Clinton similarly honored five men who had been stationed there, and two from Nebraska and Ohio who also died.

"May their names live on forever. May we never forget Capt. Christopher Adams, Capt. Leland Haun, Master Sgt. Michael Heiser, Staff Sgt. Kevin Johnson, Airman 1st Class Justin Wood, Staff Sgt. Ronald King and Airman Christopher Lester."

Clinton flew to Florida from Paris after a seven-nation economic summit, giving up a planned Sunday of nostalgic sightseeing with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Paris, where the couple honeymooned in 1975.

Sentiments shared

At each stop in Florida, the president comforted the families of the dead in a series of small rooms, with reporters barred. At Patrick, the family of Master Sgt. Michael Heiser gave Clinton a prized photo from their mantel, an administration official said. It showed the sergeant and Clinton posed together last November at a base in Germany, where Heiser guarded Air Force One.

An administration official recounted that one parent, not identified, urged Clinton to think about the Saudi bombing whenever he sees his daughter, Chelsea, "because one day they're gone, and it's difficult to know why." Clinton commented to aides that the families seemed "incredibly strong" and universally anxious for arrest of the killers.

Clinton has assigned retired Gen. Wayne Downing, a former chief of special operations forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force, to assess security at U.S. military bases throughout the Middle East in light of the truck bombing.

The Eglin victims died just two days before their 90-day deployment was to have ended.

Investigation

In a related development, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Defense Secretary William J. Perry should resign if lax security contributed to the tragedy.

Specter said that if the Pentagon allowed objections from the Saudi authorities to stand in the way of needed security measures, it raises "a real question as to whether William J. Perry is the right man to be secretary of defense."

Specter said his committee will hold hearings soon to explore the Saudis' refusal to keep traffic at least 300 feet farther away from the housing area and to probe the implications of a Saudi refusal to allow U.S. investigators to question four suspects arrested in an earlier terrorist attack.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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