Burial Rites Put End to 7 1/2-Year Hostage Ordeal
The remains of two American hostages killed by their captors in Lebanon were buried Monday with full military honors. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney pledged that Washington would “hold those who bear responsibility for these murders to account.”
Central Intelligence Agency officer William Buckley and Marine Corps Col. William R. Higgins were honored in public ceremonies at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where their coffins were unloaded from a C-141 cargo plane after identification at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
About 150 family members, close friends and senior officials, including Cheney, Vice President Dan Quayle and CIA Director Robert M. Gates, attended the 35-minute ceremony in chilly temperatures and blustery winds.
The body of Buckley, a onetime Army officer, was buried a few hours later at Arlington National Cemetery, while that of Higgins was interred at Quantico National Cemetery in Quantico, Va.
The rites formally brought to a close a 7 1/2-year national ordeal involving the taking of Americans in Lebanon. The ordeal began with the capture of Frank Regier, an American University engineering professor, in February, 1984. Regier later was rescued by Lebanese militiamen.
U.S. officials have described the deaths of Buckley and Higgins as murders. Higgins was a lieutenant colonel serving with a United Nations peacekeeping mission when he was captured in February, 1988.
A fundamentalist Islamic organization said that it had hanged him in retaliation for Israel’s kidnaping of Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, a cleric serving with the Hezbollah terrorist group. Higgins was promoted to colonel posthumously. He would have been 47 next month.
Buckley, the CIA’s Beirut station chief in 1983 and 1984, was kidnaped in March, 1984, by the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad.
He died in June, 1985, after having been tortured and denied adequate medical treatment. Islamic Jihad said they had killed him in retaliation for alleged U.S. help in an Israeli air raid on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunisia. He was 57.
The public ceremonies Monday were brief and low-key. The U.S. Marine band played the national anthem and hymns selected by the two families, while a Marine Corps honor guard carried the coffins to hearses parked a few yards from the aircraft.
President Bush did not attend the ceremonies. The chief executive, who had taken off a few hours earlier in Air Force One for a previously scheduled trip to Asia, sent the vice president in his place.
Quayle praised Buckley and Higgins as “American heroes” who “responded to trouble by volunteering to go in harm’s way” and sacrificed their lives for the pursuit of peace. “On behalf of President Bush and all Americans, I salute their sacrifice and bravery,” he said.
Cheney told the audience that, with the return of the bodies, “an ugly chapter in terrorism” has ended. “This is also a time when the healing can begin,” he said.
But the defense secretary also cautioned that the experience with hostage-taking had “reaffirmed the importance” of Americans’ resolve and vowed that “we will hold those who bear responsibility for these murders to account.”
Although all the Americans who were taken hostage have been returned or their remains sent back, the United States is supporting a United Nations effort to secure the release of two German hostages and the remains of several others who died in captivity.
Quayle called hostage-taking “a despicable, cowardly act that has been condemned throughout the world.” He thanked U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar for spearheading an international effort to secure the hostages’ release.
Higgins’ wife, Robin, herself a Marine Corps major, and their 21-year-old daughter, Chrissy, stood expressionless at Monday’s ceremonies, along with Buckley’s two sisters, Maureen Moroney and Joyce Wing, and his longtime companion, Beverly Surette.
Also at the ceremonies Monday was Terry Anderson, former Associated Press Middle East correspondent in Beirut, who was captured in March, 1985, and set free earlier this month. Anderson and Buckley were being kept in the same room when the CIA officer died.
The remains of Higgins and Buckley were released separately last week by their captors in Beirut. In each case, the remains were wrapped in blankets and dumped on a highway in South Beirut. They were identified by U.S. authorities there and flown to Dover.