Washington, DC – As they touched down for the last time on US soil, four Americans killed during attacks this week at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were honored with eulogies today by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In the audience at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland included Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell, as well as many other top military, State Department and civilian officials, and family members of the fallen patriots.
In four flag-draped caskets, each carried from a C-17 aircraft and into a large hangar by seven Marines, were the remains of US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service information management officer Sean Smith, and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty.
The Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi also wounded three Americans who are recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
At the ceremony, Clinton spoke first, commenting on the life of each State Department hero. “Today,” she said, “we bring home four Americans who gave their lives for our country and our values. To the families of our fallen colleagues I offer our most heartfelt condolences and deepest gratitude.”
Sean Smith, who joined the State Department after six years in the Air Force, was respected as a technology expert by colleagues in Pretoria, South Africa, Baghdad, Montreal, and The Hague in the Netherlands. He enrolled in correspondence courses at Pennsylvania State University and had high hopes for the future, Clinton said.
“Sean leaves behind a loving wife, Heather; two young children, Samantha and Nathan; and scores of grieving family, friends and colleagues,” she said.
“And that’s just in this world,” the secretary added, “because online, in the virtual worlds that Sean helped create, he is also being mourned by countless competitors, collaborators and gamers who shared his passion.”
Clinton said Tyrone Woods, known by friends as Rone, spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL, serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and later earning distinction as a registered nurse and a certified paramedic.
“Since 2010 he protected American diplomatic personnel in dangerous posts from Central America to the Middle East,” she said. “Our hearts go out to Tyrone’s wife Dorothy and his three sons, Tyrone Jr., Hunter and Kai, born just a few months ago, and to his grieving family, friends and colleagues.”
Glen Doherty, called Bub by his friends, also was a former SEAL and an experienced paramedic, the secretary said, who died as he lived — serving his country and protecting his colleagues.
“Glen deployed to some of the most dangerous places on earth, including Iraq and Afghanistan, always putting his life on the line to safeguard other Americans,” Clinton said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Glen’s father, Bernard; his mother, Barbara; his brother, Gregory; his sister, Kathleen and their grieving families, friends and colleagues, the secretary added.
Clinton said she was honored to know Ambassador Chris Stevens. “I want to thank his parents and siblings who are here today for sharing Chris with us and with our country. What a wonderful gift you gave us,” she told them.
During a distinguished career in the Foreign Service, Clinton said, Stevens won friends for the United States around the world and made their hopes his own.
“During the revolution in Libya, he risked his life to help protect the Libyan people from a tyrant, and he gave his life helping them build a better country,” the secretary added.
People loved to work with Chris, who was “known not only for his courage but for his smile — goofy but contagious — [and] for his sense of fun and that California cool,” she said, referring to his home in the northern part of the state.
In the days since the attack, so many Libyans have expressed sorrow and solidarity, the secretary said. “One young woman, her head covered and her eyes haunted with sadness, held up a handwritten sign that said: ‘Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam,'” Clinton said.
“The president of the Palestinian Authority, who worked closely with Chris when he served in Jerusalem, sent me a letter remembering his energy and integrity, and deploring, and I quote, ‘an act of ugly terror,'” she added.
Others from across the Middle East and North Africa have offered similar sentiments, the secretary said.
“This has been a difficult week for the State Department and for our country. We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of these brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American Embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with,” she said.
It’s hard for Americans to make sense of these events because the events are senseless and unacceptable, Clinton added, referring to multiple protests at US Embassies over a film posted on the Internet that insults the Prophet Mohammed.
In response, protestors also have swarmed the US Embassy in Tunisia and the German Embassy in Sudan, and the State Department website has posted travel alerts advising caution because of possible demonstrations for anyone visiting US Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Jakarta, Indonesia.
“The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” Clinton said. “Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts.”
More difficult days lie ahead, she added, “but it is important that we don’t lose sight of the fundamental fact that America must keep leading the world. We owe it to these four men to continue the long, hard work of diplomacy.”
As he took the podium, Obama quoted Scripture as teaching that, “‘Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.'” And he said a few words about each of the Americans who died in Libya.
“Four Americans, four patriots,” the president said. “They loved this country and they chose to serve it and served it well. They had a mission and they believed in it. They knew the danger and they accepted it.”
Obama added, “I know that this awful loss — terrible images of recent days, the pictures we’re seeing again today — have caused some to question this work, and there is no doubt these are difficult days.”
In such incidents of anger and violence, he said, even the most hopeful must wonder.
“But amid all the images of this week I also think of the Libyans who took to the streets with homemade signs expressing their gratitude to an American who believed in what we could achieve together,” the president said.
“I think of the man in Benghazi with his sign in English,” Obama said. “A message he wanted all of us to hear. It said, ‘Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans. Chris Stevens was a friend.'”
That message is one each American sends every day, he added, that America is a friend. “Even as voices of suspicion and mistrust seek to divide countries and cultures from one another, the United States of America will never retreat from the world,” the president said.
Americans will never stop working for the dignity and freedom that every person deserves, whatever their creed or faith, he added.
“That’s the essence of American leadership. That’s the spirit that sets us apart from other nations. This was their work in Benghazi and this is the work we will carry on,” the president said.
The sacrifice of Doherty, Woods, Smith and Stevens will never be forgotten, he added.
“We will bring to justice those who took them from us,” Obama said. “We will stand fast against the violence on our diplomatic missions. We will continue to do everything in our power to protect Americans serving overseas, whether that means increasing security at our diplomatic posts, working with host countries … and making it clear that justice will come to those who harm Americans.”