Slain US Diplomats Honored as Risk-Taking ‘Soldiers’
(WASHINGTON) -- Eight foreign service officials who lost their lives serving overseas with the U.S. diplomatic corps were honored Friday at a State Department ceremony. The men and woman, whose fields ranged from Vietnam to Afghanistan, are the newest names to be inscribed on the American Foreign Service Association’s memorial plaques.
The most recent addition to the list is 25-year-old Anne Smedinghoff, a rising press officer at the U.S. embassy in Kabul who was killed in April along with four others when a suicide car bomber drove into their motorcade. The convoy was en route to deliver schoolbooks to impoverished Afghan children at the time.
Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were present for the unveiling. The secretary recollected meeting the young woman on a diplomatic visit to the country days before her death.
“I remember her face, her permanent smile, cutting through the chaos and the crowd. That's exactly where Anne wanted to be, right in the thick of it,” he said, adding she died “carrying out a mission of hope.”
Smedinghoff, who a senior State Department official described to ABC News as “really special” and “sweet,” had also brought an Afghan children’s orchestra to perform in New York to a sold-out crowd in February.
Her name was joined by another diplomat killed in Afghanistan. Ragaei Said Abdelfattah, a USAID officer, died in Kunar Province at the hands of a separate suicide bombing attack last summer.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was also honored along with three other State employees who died during the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the American consulate in Benghazi: Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods, and Glen Doherty.
“Through all of the tributes and the memorials after his death, we have learned so much about who Chris was as a person and about his skill as a diplomat,” Kerry began. “One Peace Corps volunteer even visited the town in Morocco where Chris served almost 30 years earlier. And the volunteer met a young Moroccan, who not only remembered the first words Chris taught him in English, but he said that Chris inspired him to become an English teacher himself.”
Diplomat Sean Smith served as a management officer for the consulate after volunteering for the Haiti earthquake and the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster. As previously reported, former Navy SEALs Woods and Doherty were working as independent contractors with the CIA at the time of the attack. Doherty told ABC News a month before his death that his mission included tracking down loose shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles that had been lost in the chaos of Moammar Gadhafi’s fall.
Biden said the endeavors of the diplomatic corps were lost on “most Americans.”
“They don't understand you all -- don't fully understand this outfit called the State Department or AID or the Diplomatic Security Corps. They know certain pieces of it,” he said. “What they don't know -- and you can't blame them for not knowing -- is that in many places of the world, they're as much of a soldier as anyone in uniform. But they don't know -- and you can't expect them to know -- is they take risks that sometimes exceed those of the women and men in uniform.”
Biden recollected visiting remote U.S. bases “up in a mountaintop where you got three civilians, American civilians and three military personnel, some godforsaken hilltop somewhere.”
Two names from Vietnam, Joseph Fandino and Francis Savage, were also added Friday. They lost their lives in 1972 and 1967, respectively, but the AFSA says their contributions were brought to attention by family members just last year.
“Everybody in this building knows and many more Americans know and have become more and more aware of exactly the sacrifices you made – you made,” Biden told the assembled families. “Supporting your child, your husband, your wife, in doing a job that in your gut you knew had to be done but you I can't imagine didn't wish someone else were doing it. So we owe you. We owe you more than we can repay you.”
Over 200 names adorn the memorial plaques at the State Department honoring lives lost in 64 countries and at sea. The first earliest recorded diplomat to be recognized dates to 1780.
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