Looking sorrowful, at times almost haggard, but always dignified, Mr Clinton paid tribute to the dead, many of whom were young, as "a portrait of America today and of America's tomorrow".
Pledging: "No matter what it takes, we must find those responsible for these evil acts and ensure that justice is done," he told the mourners and the worldwide television audience: "America will not retreat from the world and all its promise, nor shrink from our responsibility to stand against terror and with the friends of freedom everywhere." In the light of Kenyan criticism, Mr Clinton judiciously paid equal tribute early in his oration to the Kenyans and Tanzanians who were also killed.
Mr Clinton, who had interrupted preparations for his grand jury testimony on Monday, was accompanied by his wife, Hillary, and members of the administration. Tears flowed as they watched 10 coffins, draped in the Stars and Stripes, being unloaded from the plane that had brought them from Germany, and borne each to their own hearse at the edge of an aircraft hangar.
There were hearses also for the two bodies not repatriated with the rest: one, married to a Kenyan, was to be buried in Kenya. The other was repatriated early at the request of her family.
Yesterday's ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, combined the ad hoc and serviceable elements of a military base with the measured ceremonial and high-flown rhetoric of a national tribute.
The Defense Secretary, William Cohen, spoke first and paid tribute to the dead as among those who "serve on the frontline of democracy". The Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright - dressed in black like Mrs Clinton - looked exhausted after her 24-hour transatlantic journey to escort home the bodies, but talked tough. Terrorism, she said, was not a form of political expression. "It is certainly not a manifestation of religious faith. It is murder, plain and simple."
Before the 45-minute ceremony, Mr Clinton met family and friends of the dead, spending more than five minutes with each.
The tears and theatre of national mourning diverted attention from the fact that the previous evening, the US ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, disclosed that she had twice in the past year asked for a new embassy building in Nairobi for security reasons. Both requests had been rejected on cost grounds.