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Memorial Services Held For Victims of TWA 800

July 21, 1996

In California, 230 white balloons were loosed to the wind, drifting upward as more than 800 mourners below held each other and wept in memory of the victims of TWA Flight 800.

At dozens of memorial services dotting the nation on Sunday, the living struggled to find peace and, perhaps, understanding. Both were hard.

``We must never say or hint that this was God’s will. ... We must not attempt to offer glib answers in the face of grim tragedy,″ the Rev. Stephen McGough, told parishioners in Montoursville, Pa., home to 16 high school French Club students and five chaperones who died on their way to Paris.

Large services were held at JFK’s Hangar 208, and TWA held services in the Los Angeles, St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Of 100 bodies recovered by Sunday, 36 had been identified.

At a French-language Mass in Manhattan for 42 French citizens killed in the crash, the Rev. Harry Tiercelin said it was hard to see ``the work, the hopes, the years, the love, the lives ... destroyed in a single moment.″

In Hollywood Hills, Calif., veteran pilot Cliff Waeshle paid tribute in a wavering voice to the pilot of the doomed flight, Ralph G. Kevorkian of Garden Grove, Calif.

``It just doesn’t make a lot of sense at this time, but I’m sure some sense will come of it,″ said Waeshle, who sported a white ribbon above his gold pilot’s wings.

As somber organ music gently played, airline employees slowly read off the names, one by one, of employees who died as sobs broke out from the crowd. Later, they went outside to free the balloons and watch seven vintage propeller-driven airplanes fly over in formation, trailing white smoke. The crowd waved to the aircraft and applauded.

Cecil Reed, an official with the airline machinists union, said the TWA employees were also mourning the passengers.

``The moment they boarded that airplane, they became part of my family,″ said Reed, choking back tears.

At Kennedy Airport, many relatives standing vigil in a nearby hotel attended ceremonies. The Rev. James Devine celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Skies chapel at the airport, while Rabbi Alvin Poplack led a service in a garden outside the hotel.

``It is natural that we grieve,″ said Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, Calif., where victims Eugene, Etta, Jamie and Candace Silverman worshipped.

``But if we are paralyzed in our grief, and we learn nothing from this tragedy, then somehow their lives have been perverted,″ he said.

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