Now, the men, as Obama would say during the formal Transfer of Remains ceremony, had come “home.” The coffins were placed in front of four black hearses inside a vast hangar, a giant flag hanging from the rafters. After a benediction was read, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, dressed in dark colors, took turns putting a face on the fallen before dozens of family, friends and State Department employees.
“Four Americans, four patriots,” said Obama, who had met privately with family members. “They had a mission, and they believed in it. They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal, they lived it, they embodied it: the courage, the hope and, yes, the idealism. That fundamental American belief that we can leave this world a little better than before.”
Welcoming home the remains of the dead is a grim duty for a president. And it is one that Obama has done several times for troops from Afghanistan. But it was never like this — in the middle of an election, in a fight for his political life.
Here they were: There was Smith, the technology wizard who Clinton said was mourned as widely by “gamers” online as he was in the halls of federal Washington. There was Doherty, known as “Bub,” and Woods, known as “ ’Rone,” both former Navy SEALs who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before protecting America’s diplomats.
And there was Stevens, 52, who had worked closely with the Libyan people during their overthrow of strongman Moammar Gaddafi last year, then stayed on to help the new government rebuild. He became the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979, but Clinton wanted her listeners to remember a man who was beloved not just by his co-workers but by the citizens of the foreign countries in which he served.
She told the audience that she had received a letter this week from the president of the Palestinian Authority, who had worked closely with Stevens in Jerusalem and remembered his “energy and integrity.”
“What a wonderful gift you gave us,” Clinton said, addressing Stevens’s family. The statesman was known “not only for his courage but for his smile — goofy but contagious. For his sense of fun, and that California cool.”