The remains of three U.S. airmen who died during the aborted rescue mission in Iran were buried in a common grave after a solemn military ceremony yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.
A horse-drawn calsson carried the flag-draped casket in which the three men's remains were placed. They were buried in a single steel coffin because, an official said, their bodies were so severly burned that they could not be identified individually. A single granite headstone will mark their grave.
"I am proud to live in a free country and proud to be a member of an organization dedicated to preserving that freedom," Lt. Col. William Page, chaplain at Hurlburt Field, Fla., said during the simple graveside service.
The statement was part of the official "pledge" of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, a commando group to which the three men belonged.
The men buried yesterday were Capt. Richard L. Bakke, 33, of Long Beach, Calif.; Capt. Harold L. Lewis Jr., 35, of Willimantic, Conn., and Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, 34, of Bonifay, Fla.
Five other U.S. commandos were killed during the unsuccessful attempt last month to rescue the 53 American hostages held in Iran. One was buried Tuesday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Springs, Colo. The families of the other four men requested private services without public announcement.
Yesterday's services took place near the amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery where President Carter led an official tribute last Friday to the eight men killed in the failed rescue mission. Carter praised them for their "daring and quiet courage."
After a rifle salute resounded an "Taps" was played by a lone bugler, the families of the three men buried yesterday were presented with American flags. They also received Defense Meritorious Service Medals, awarded to the airmen for selflessness in the effort "to liberate [their] fellow citizens."
The families of the three Air Force men were kept apart from the news media during yesterday's ceremony in what Defense Department officials described as an attempt to preserve their privacy. After the public departed, the families returned later in the day to watch the casket lowered into the grave.
A small crowd gathered during the services. Chuck Judice, 26, drove to the cemetery from his Annandale home after learning of the burial service on a radio news broadcast. "I'm from a military family," he said. "I really felt what they did was necessary and I support President Carter's move."
Under a partly overcast sky, an Air-Force band played hymns and "America the Beautiful." Relatives wept. Three young boys -- sons of one of the airmen killed during the resuce mission -- listened silently, though they appeared bewildered. The widow of one commando tightly clutched the American flag she was presented.
The families were surrounded by Air Force men, including friends of the three commandos killed in Iran who had come to mourn their colleagues.