Solemn escort for US victims

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE WAS a rattle of metal on metal and the first coffin, draped in the stars and stripes, was pulled from a lorry by eight expressionless US commandos. Twenty-five steps and the casket entered the yawning mouth of the C141 American air force transport plane.

Ten more coffins followed the same path, past Kenyan ministers, saluting American forces commanders, and Prudence Bushnell, the sparrow-like US ambassador to Kenya.

Ms Bushnell, in purple suit and pearls, stood straight- backed throughout. But there were moments when it seemed she would not last the ceremony. Her hands - one still bandaged from her own injury in Friday's terrorist attack - pulled nervously at her skirt and each coffin seemed to make her swallow harder.

As the final coffins were loaded Ms Bushnell breathed hard and briefly shut her eyes. It was over. The US and Kenya flags were rolled up and the ramp dismantled.

With this quiet, low-key ceremony, 11 of the 12 US nationals killed in the bomb attack on the US embassy left for home yesterday. Only Jean Dalizu, married to a Kenyan, stayed behind. As rescue workers continued to comb the embassy, hampered by a basement diesel leak and flooding six feet deep, one American was still missing.

Ten Kenyan staff are also still unaccounted for after an attack which claimed at least 200 lives, the vast majority Kenyan. Yesterday US government spokesmen, perhaps sensitive to criticism that the US had selfishly focused its resources on American victims, were careful to emphasise that their losses were dwarfed by Kenya's.

But yesterday America was hurting. One US spokesman, Chris Scharf, watched the bodies of close colleagues leave. He said the frantic rescue efforts had numbed people to the enormity of the loss, but the full tragedy was now sinking in.

The body of Julian Bartley, the consul general, was the last of the 12 American ones to be recovered. His body was found on Sunday night, allowing his remains to be returned with those of his son Jay, 20.

On Sunday afternoon Mr Bartley's wife made a moving speech at a private memorial service held at Ms Bushnell's home. "She spoke of how much Jay loved Kenya," said Mr Scharf, his own lip trembling. "And how he did not want to leave after graduating high school." Jay chose to study in Nairobi and to work college breaks there.

"There are so many people in love with this country and all it has to offer," said Mr Scharf. "It's a tragedy this happened here."