Remains of Stark Sailors Returned to United States
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) _ The remains of 36 of the men killed in a ″strike of madness″ on the USS Stark arrived Tuesday in the United States to a solemn ceremony attended by grieving relatives and fellow sailors.
With a huge American flag as a backdrop, members of a Navy honor guard stood at attention behind each flag-draped coffin, set on cinder blocks in a hangar known as Memorial Hall, while the Navy Band played the ″Navy Hymn″ and the national anthem.
Adm. Carlisle A.H. Trost, chief of naval operations, told relatives and others the deaths ″are an ache in our hearts.″
Thirty-seven sailors were killed in a May 17 Iraqi missile attack in the Persian Gulf. One of them is missing and presumed dead.
Of the 36 bodies returned to the base, the 35 that will be prepared here for burial were honored in the ceremony. The remains of another sailor, whose name was not released at the request of the family, was shipped home about 90 minutes before the 2:30 p.m. ceremony.
Trost called the attack a ″strike of madness.″
″Today, with heavy hearts, we mourn their tragic loss,″ he said.
″We find it hard to understand why fate has singled them out. But we do know that they were doing a tough job ... that they died in the service of their country, believing to the end in its wonderful ideals.″
Relatives, who were overcome with grief when the coffins were unloaded earlier from a C-141B cargo jet, shed tears and consoled each other during the brief ceremony, while state and local officials looked on.
Rear Adm. John R. McNamara, chief of Navy chaplains, opened the ceremony, praying, ″Under cover of darkness, like a thief in the night,″ death stole their lives, but ″could not steal their souls.″
″We reverence their memory, for you have told us peacekeepers will be forever known as sons of God.″
A total of 35 people representing the families of 14 of the sailors attended the ceremony.
Three members of the Stark’s crew flew to Dover with the coffins. Lt. Stephen R. Hales represented the crew at the ceremony.
Charles C. Carson, base mortician, said all of the remains would be shipped to their hometowns before the end of the week. The first were expected to leave Wednesday.
The base mortuary, the largest east of the Mississippi, was built in 1968 during the Vietnam War and has been a witness since to the aftermath of several major military disasters.
The mortuary handled the remains of the seven Challenger astronauts killed in January 1986; those of 248 soldiers and airline crewmen killed in the 1985 crash of a DC-8 in Gander, Newfoundland; and 241 Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut, Lebanon, barracks bombing. In addition, 913 victims of the mass suicide of the People’s Temple followers in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978 were brought there.