April 5, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton: Victims Of Crash ‘Died Doing What They Believed In’ President Pays Tribute To Brown, Staff, Businessmen

Terence Hunt Associated Press

On a day of sorrow and remembrance, President Clinton ordered flags lowered to half-staff Thursday and led a memorial service for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 32 other Americans killed in a military plane crash.

The president began the day with an early-morning telephone call to Brown’s wife, Alma, confirming that the secretary’s body had been identified on a rain-swept hilltop in Croatia. Much of the rest of the day was devoted to the sad task of calling families of other victims.

Clinton and his wife, Hillary, wiped away tears at a noontime prayer service with Cabinet members and officials of the Commerce Department and White House at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“It was 28 years ago that Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, working for what he believed in,” Clinton said afterward. He added that the victims of the crash “died doing what they believed in, so that’s how we’ll try to deal with this on this spring day in Easter week.”

The day was sunny and Washington’s famed cherry trees were in full bloom. By chance, the Lane College Concert Choir of Jackson, Tenn., happened to be in town, and the all-black musical group was asked to lead the service with a medley of spirituals.

Clinton paid tribute not only to Brown but also his colleagues in the Commerce Department, the military and the business community who perished.

“As we grieve for them we should thank God for their lives. And that there are still people like them willing to answer the challenge.”

The State Department released the manifest of the ill-fated plane showing that 11 Commerce Department officials died with Brown, along with a CIA analyst, a Treasury Department executive, 12 corporate leaders, a reporter, six crew members, and a foreign interpreter and a photographer.

Clinton cut his schedule to a bare minimum. He signed a massive farm bill with no fanfare and met privately with German opposition leader Oskar Lafontaine.

Clinton issued a proclamation ordering flags lowered at all public buildings and military posts through next Wednesday.

At the Commerce Department, several hundred workers gathered outside for a prayer vigil. Workers embraced and grew tearful talking about their loss.

“I guess we all realize just how precious life can be,” said Lisa Yarbrough, an administrator in the import division of the agency. “I think just about everybody I know knew someone who was on that plane. We not only lost a great leader, we lost many of our friends.”

Ms. Yarbrough was among dozens of Commerce employees who warmly greeted J.R. Garland, a special security agent who was supposed to be on the Dubrovnik trip. Many still thought Thursday morning that he was among the dead, but his boss, Duane Christian, had taken the flight, instead.

“My God, I’m so glad to see you,” Ms. Yarbrough said, breaking into tears as she and several other workers threw their arms around Garland as he strolled outside. “We thought we’d lost you, too.”

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