The article misstated the death tolls in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the barracks bombing, 220 Marines, 18 U.S. Navy personnel and three soldiers were killed. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
'Goodbye to those who now belong to eternity'
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Each blow against America has seemed unimaginable: When 220 soldiers died in the shattered Beirut barracks. When the fertilizer bombs blew apart a federal building and its workforce in Oklahoma City. When the hijackers brought down shining twin towers and more than 3,000 lives.
Each time, the president has stepped from the wings to face a sea of his citizens, shocked, angry and suffused with grief.
On Tuesday, that heavy task fell to President Obama. At a memorial service five days after the largest mass killing on a U.S. military base, he reached for words of sorrow and solace, then summoned determination.
"Neither this country, nor the values that we were founded upon, could exist without men and women like these 13 Americans" who died in a hail of bullets, Obama said. "Their life's work is our security and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- that is their legacy."
He faced a crowd of several thousand soldiers dressed in desert camouflage fatigues and dusty combat boots. Their black berets formed a rippling acre of funereal bunting under a blue sky. The soldiers are practiced at this ritual; 545 from Fort Hood have died in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, so many that new granite tablets keep being added at each company's memorial.
Yet those being mourned Tuesday, as the president noted, "were killed here, on American soil. . . . This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible."
What made it unimaginable, Obama left unsaid: The man accused is one of the Army's own, a major, a psychiatrist, scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan and to help those buckling under the brutality of war. That, said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, was "a kick in the gut." Obama did not mention Nidal Hasan by name.
Honoring the dead
Many of the dead and wounded also were warrior therapists, called to treat emotional wounds. Obama eulogized each fallen soldier individually.
He spoke of the Eagle Scout who decided to defuse bombs, and the guitar player who could make up songs on the spot, the retired veteran who returned as a physician's assistant and came back to work right after a heart attack, and the immigrants, a Mexican, a Thai, one middle-aged, one young, who saw opportunity in volunteer military service.
Casey noted they were "newlyweds, single moms, immigrants, teenagers and 50-somethings -- all bound together" by the common desire to serve the country. Among them, they had 19 children, and one on the way.
Their family members sat in the front rows, their faces a tableau of the most personal grief, hands twisting hands, heads bowed or rigidly straight. Near them were the soldiers who had survived, some on crutches, some in wheelchairs. Several remain hospitalized around the region.
Farther back were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and the state's two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. From the Pentagon came Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Casey.