Bodies make journey home Bombing victims are remembered in a somber tribute

August 14, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE -- The bodies of 10 Americans killed in the bombing in Kenya returned yesterday to American soil, where President Clinton, his eyes wet with tears, led a subdued memorial service with a grim reminder that such attacks could occur again.

"Terrorists target America because we act and stand for peace and democracy, because the spirit of our country is the very spirit of freedom," Clinton told hundreds of relatives, bereaved colleagues and foreign diplomats who paid tribute inside a hangar at the Maryland base. Behind the president, 10 flag-draped coffins were propped on the tailgates of gleaming black hearses beneath a huge American flag.

"It is the burden of our history and the bright hope of the world's future," Clinton said. But, he stressed, "America will not retreat from the world and all its promise."

Arriving at the hangar an hour before the ceremony, the president and his wife met privately for about five minutes with each of the families and listened to anecdotes about the victims. The atmosphere of those meetings combined sadness with pride, said P. J. Crowley, a White House spokesman.

In the helicopter on the way back to the White House, Crowleysaid, the president put his head down and took a couple of deep breaths. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "Those families were amazing."

In his public remarks, the president offered brief descriptions of the slain Americans, a group in whose diversity he saw "a portrait of America today and of America's tomorrow."

He noted, for instance, that one foreign service officer was "an extraordinarily accomplished jazz musician" and that an Army sergeant "wanted his ashes scattered in the Pacific off Big Sur because that was where he had met his beloved wife."

Twelve Americans -- diplomats, embassy personnel, military staff and guards -- were among 247 people who were killed early Aug. 7 when a vehicle bomb exploded outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. No Americans died in a nearly simultaneous explosion that killed 10 people at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

One American victim, Jean Rose Dalizu, is to be buried in Kenya, although her two daughters attended yesterday's ceremony. The body of another, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Sherry Lynn Olds, was flown to Florida on Wednesday at her family's request.

The White House spent much of yesterday trying to explain why Prudence Bushnell, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, had been rebuffed at least twice when she asked for the construction of a new, safer embassy to replace the vulnerable building in downtown Nairobi.

Officials said that new security measures were begun at the embassy but that the State Department lacked the money for a new building. In any event, they said, a new embassy could not have been built in time to prevent last week's bombing.

'Goin' Home'

Yesterday, as base employees and their families were pressing into a standing-room crowd at one end of the hangar, the ceremony began with the rhythmic clicking of drumsticks from an Air Force Band.

Minutes later, a C-17 cargo plane that had borne the coffins from Ramstein Air Base in Germany appeared far down the runway and gradually loomed into place just outside the hangar doors. The band played the spiritual "Goin' Home" as the tailgates of the hearses were opened and the victims' families were escorted to their seats.

In a recognition that three nations shared in the tragedy, service members carried flags representing the United States, Kenya and Tanzania just before President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton went to stand at their seats.

To the muted strains of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee," the coffins were carried from the plane into the hangar by uniformed pallbearers representing each of the four military services and the Coast Guard.

They contained the remains of Sgt. Jesse Nathaniel Aliganga Jr.; Julian Bartley Sr., the consul general; his son, Julian "Jay" Bartley Jr.; Molly Huckaby Hardy; Sgt. Kenneth Ray Hobson II; Prabhi Guptara Kavaler; Arlene Kirk; Mary Louise Martin; Ann Michelle O'Connor; and Uttamlal "Tom" Shah.

After pallbearers hoisted the coffins into the hearses, a chaplain delivered an invocation to "honor the lives and mourn the deaths of these brave Americans."

'Lived with action, passion'

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, a published poet, delivered the first of three official speeches with simple eloquence.

"We borrow this moment to express our sorrow and gratitude both to the families who are gathered here and to these fallen heroes who lived their dreams, giving more than a sample of their best both as soldiers and diplomats," he said.

"They endured hardship and yet they served quietly and proudly. They knew the dangers of their profession, yet risked life and limb for us all. They lived with action and passion."

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