“The truck stopped directly in front of the apartment building. I saw the flash and dropped to the pavement, up against the curb. The noise was deafening and then there was just this eerie quietness everywhere. Then I started to hear the screams of the injured,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Billy Stewart.
Nineteen U.S. military personnel were killed and Stewart, a finance chief, was one of 109 injured when terrorists drove a tanker truck filled with explosives into Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia at 9:50 p.m. on June 25, 1996.
No Greater Love sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony Friday morning at Arlington National Cemetery to remember the victims of the tragic event that occurred three years earlier in Dhahran.
The ceremony was held in Section 59 of the cemetery where two of the 19 victims, Air Force Master Sgt. Michael George Heiser and Airman 1st Class Brian W. McVeigh, are buried.
No Greater Love is the only organization in the country solely dedicated to sponsoring annual programs of remembrance, friendship and care for those who have lost loved ones in service to our country or by an act of terrorism.
At the beginning of the ceremony Carmella LaSpada, founder and CEO of No Greater Love, said, “The families of those we remember today carry deep wounds. They all suffer the same pain. Though their grief is overwhelming, they will be consoled in the knowledge that others remember. And No Greater Love is dedicated to let them know that they and their loved ones are not forgotten.”
A prayer was offered for those who died in the bombing. Air Force Col. Edward P. Brogan, senior chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery, prayed, “We are sad to say that peace isn't present enough in our world or in our own lives. Lord, we praise and thank you that you are with us, even when the peace of our lives erupts into chaos as it did at Khobar Towers in Dhahran Air Base, Saudi Arabia. You never forsake us, you stand by us in the valley of the shadow of death when terrorists strike and our world seems to collapse around us. This morning Lord, we pray for your continued healing for families struck by the terrorists at Khobar Towers. We look to you also to restrain the hands of those who would use murder and terrorism as political implements, watch over the peoples of this world, guide them to understand that they truly are your children and
thereby brothers and sisters one to another. Dissolve, we pray, the many mistrusts and hatreds of this world today, especially in Kosovo, that peace might take root and flourish. This we pray in your blessed name, Amen.”
Heiser and McVeigh are buried near a memorial tree and a stone dedicated by No Greater Love in 1984 to pay tribute to all those throughout the world who have died by an act of terrorism. LaSpada said the tree and stone are tangible reminders that the victims will never be forgotten.
Kythe Watts-Russell, an executive staff assistant for No Greater Love, assisted in the ceremony as LaSpada read the names of the 19 slain service members during the Roll Call of Remembrance. Along with Heiser and McVeigh, the roll call included; Christopher Adams, Daniel Cafourek, Millard Campbell, Earl Cartrette Jr., Patrick Fennig, Leland Haun, Kevin Johnson, Ronald King, Kendall Kitson Jr., Christopher Lester, Brent Marthaler, Peter Morgera, Thanh Nguyen, Joseph Rimkus, Jeremy Taylor, Justin Wood and Joshua Woody.
In addition to the 109 Americans injured in the attack; 147 Saudis, 118 Bangladeshis, four Egyptians, two Jordanians, two Indonesians and two Filipinos were also injured.
LaSpada and Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul Hester, director of Legislative Liaison, placed a wreath at the gravesites of Heiser and McVeigh. Airman 1st Class Jason Scales came from Bolling Air Force Base to perform honor guard duty during the wreath-laying ceremony.
Tech. Sgt. Tom Rarick of the ceremonial brass, U.S. Air Force Band, played the drum while Tech. Sgt. Sean Walsh of the same unit played “Taps” on his bugle.
On this same day, family members of the 19 terrorist victims were gathered at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. to participate in a ceremony honoring their lost family members. No Greater Love sent a wreath to them. LaSpada said an exhibit honoring those who died in Khobar Towers was dedicated at Enlisted Heritage Hall in the Gunter Annex of Maxwell Air Force Base.
Jennifer Refvik, a No Greater Love staff assistant, said, “It's a small task (for us) to remember (those who perished) when their sacrifice was so great. This is a worthwhile organization to work for because it's kind of opening a door to the past and making sure people, places and events are not forgotten.”
“It's our duty as Americans to never forget those who died for the freedom we enjoy. We're putting our patriotism into action to remind others our moment of remembrance is a symbolic act of American unity,” LaSpada said.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard