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  At Andrews, Sorrow and Pride

row of mourners
Sam DeBlassis-Hilty, 5, salutes as the caskets pass. (Lucian Perkins-The Post)

Related Links
List of American Victims

At Ceremony, Grief Overtakes Clinton (Washington Post, Aug. 14)

Parts of Vehicle Uncovered in Nairobi (Washington Post, Aug. 14)

U.S., Kenya Take Steps Toward Healing (Associated Press, Aug. 14)

Stories From the AP


By Michael E. Ruane and Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 14, 1998; Page A01

Ten everyday Americans killed by a terrorist bomb a continent away came home yesterday, their bodies borne from an Air Force transport jet into a cavernous hangar that was draped in deep blue and filled with the grief of their families.

Led by a tearful President Clinton who quoted from scripture as he stood beside 10 gleaming black hearses, friends, relatives, government officials and complete strangers gathered to pay solemn tribute to the Nairobi bombing victims on their arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.

They were innocents, the president and others said of them: diplomats and doctors, youthful soldiers and administrators, kind, adventurous spirits who left behind spouses, children and parents to reckon with their murders.

"Proud sons and daughters who perished half a world away," the president called them, but who "never left America behind."

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who accompanied the bodies on their 10-hour flight home from a U.S. air base in Germany, described the dead as "unpretentious, but remarkable people . . . doing their jobs . . . healing the ill, helping those in need."

Yesterday's ceremony, aside from the dignitaries' brief speeches, was marked chiefly by a heavy silence that was broken only by an honor guard's shouted commands, an Air Force band's quiet hymns and the muffled sounds of anguish.

The fat, gray C-17 transport – named the Spirit of America's Veterans – that carried the bodies from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, arrived at 10:30 a.m at the Andrews installation southeast of Washington.

Only 10 of the 12 Americans killed in last Friday's blast outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi were on board. Their flag-draped coffins were carried off the airplane, each by an eight-man honor guard representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, and placed in the hearses that sat in the hangar waiting with their rear doors open.

The body of one American victim, Jean Dalizu, 60, a longtime resident of Kenya, is being buried there. A second body, that of Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Sherry Lynn Olds, 40, was sent directly to her home in Panama City, Fla., at the request of her family.

More than 250 people were killed and 5,000 wounded in twin bombing attacks at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and at Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Close relatives of the dead had gathered in a closed-off area of the hangar for an emotional private meeting with the president before the bodies arrived. They were then escorted through parted curtains to the seating area.

It was a sorrowful moment. One woman, clutching a large framed portrait of a loved one, stopped just before emerging into the seating area and buried her face in a handkerchief. Others entered crying, holding on to one another, or with eyes red from grief.

Clinton, too, seemed extremely troubled. His eyes were brimming with tears as he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton emerged to take their front-row seats.

"Every person here today would pray not to be here," the president said. "But we could not be anywhere else."

Bombings map/washingtonpost.com staff

"The rest of your fellow Americans have learned a little bit about your loved ones in the past few days," Clinton told the families.

"Of course, we will never know them as you did or remember them as you will: as a new baby, a proud graduate, a beaming bride or groom, a reassuring voice on the phone from across the ocean, a tired but happy traveler at an airport, bags stuffed with gifts, arm outstretched.

"Nothing can bring them back," he said, "but nothing can erase the lives they led, the difference they made, the joy they brought."

As the Air Force band played "Nearer My God to Thee" and "America the Beautiful," the hearses slowly drove in single file out the hangar doors.

The bodies were later reloaded onto an airplane and flown to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, from which they would be returned to their families.

For them, the day seemed almost unbearable.

"Words are very hard to find right now," said a distraught Clara Aliganga, of Pensacola, Fla., whose son, Marine Corps Sgt. Jesse Nathanael Aliganga, was killed guarding the Nairobi embassy.

"I want everybody to know that, true enough, I am saddened by the loss of my son," she said. "But I'm also comforted to know that Nathan left me in good hands. I have a wonderful extended family, the United States Marine Corps."

"This is something Nathan wanted to do," she said as she stood wearing a small blue ribbon – as did other family members – and a tiny pendant bearing a picture of her son.

"Every mother wants them right under the wing, close to the heart," she said. "But you have to let them go. And I did, and stood behind him in his decision. I'm sorry he had to go."

In addition to family members, though, there were others present yesterday who had less intimate or only slight connections with the victims. Some knew them not at all.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Rick Breedlove sat alone in the hangar two hours before the ceremony, waiting to say goodbye.

In 1992 he had met bombing victim Julian Bartley, Sr., 55, the former Bowie resident who was the embassy's consul general, when both were stationed in Korea.

When Breedlove was suddenly sent back to the United States, it was Bartley who made sure that the young Army sergeant's Korean bride got the right papers to make it to America.

"He personally helped her through it," said Breedlove, his eyes watering. "That's why I'm here. He took a personal interest in my family. That's something you don't forget."

"He was extremely personable, kind and generous," Breedlove added. "His son was just like his dad – a good, moral person." Bartley's son Jay, 20, also was killed in the blast.

Kay Mears, 56, a Navy retiree from California who suffers from post-polio syndrome and osteoporosis, came to the ceremony on crutches. "I didn't know any of them, but I knew all of them. They were Americans," she said. "I would have crawled, if I had to, to get here."

Mears, wearing an American flag on her blue lapel, cried softly as she spoke. She had been visiting her son in the Washington area when the bombings took place. "It's just a privilege to be able to be here," she said. "My heart just wanted to say goodbye."

Junior Williams, 41, a retired Army major from Indianapolis, was visiting Washington as a tourist but decided to break off his tour of Washington to attend the ceremony. "It's very important to show respect, not only for the loss of life, but for the families, so they know they're being supported," he said.

State Department employees arrived at the ceremony by the busload. Many of them knew one or more of the victims.

Pam Anderson, an employee with the Foreign Service Institute Library, met bombing victim Arlene Kirk, 50, of South Bend, Ind., when the two were stationed in Cairo, and both made a trip to Israel. "She was a very warm and friendly person," she said.

"This is not the first time something like this has happened," said Gladys Brooks, a personnel management specialist with USAID. "It's rather depressing."

Elizabeth Bajis, an employee with the University of Maryland office on Andrews, stood amid the crowd carrying 10 red roses in her arms, one for each victim at the ceremony. "I thought it was such a horrible thing," said Bajis, who attended with several other employees from her office. "I wanted to do something to show they were appreciated."

Many diplomats also attended. Said Thomas Ndikumana, charge d'affaires from Burundi: "It was impossible for me not to come here, as a sign of sympathy, and opposition to terrorism."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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