Remarks at the American Foreign Service Association Memorial Plaque Ceremony
Secretary of State
The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
The most important thank you that we can all give – and we do – is to the family members. I know this is a mixed day. It’s a hard day. It’s a day that brings back pain, but it’s also a day, I hope, of comfort and of pride in knowing that the contributions and the memories of your loved ones are a permanent part of the State Department, as strong as the marble which will carry their names for eternity.
Today we add eight names to our wall of honor, eight people who dedicated their lives to service. And to a person, each one sought out the most difficult assignments. They understood the risks, and still they raised their hands and they said: “Send me.”
Anne Smedinghoff was just 25 years old when she was killed in Zabul province, Afghanistan. I met her on my trip to Afghanistan, about a week before her death. And 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. And she was killed carrying out a mission of hope, bringing books to Afghan children, who had no connection to her, but who she believed deserved the chance to improve their lives.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the terrorist attack at our diplomatic post in Benghazi, on September 11, 2012. 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. Everyone felt like he was a personal friend. And in fact, for those of us on the Foreign Relations Committee, he was, because he worked there at one time. 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.
Sean Smith was killed in the same attack as Ambassador Stevens. He was serving literally as a one-man band to keep the Benghazi post running. He was Information Management Officer, Financial Management Officer, Management Officer in general. And Sean, throughout his career, went places that other people didn’t. He was the first to volunteer for Haiti after the earthquake, the first to volunteer for Japan after the Fukushima disaster. And so of course, he stepped up to serve in Benghazi. But with as much time and passion as he devoted to work, he also built a very rich network of friends. His love for the San Diego Chargers was legendary – as were his Super Bowl parties – and he was an accomplished online gamer. He leaves behind his wife, Heather, two young children. And I hope they know how much we are all diminished by Sean’s loss.
Today we also honor two true warriors – both trained Navy SEALs, both fierce patriots with loving hearts. Ty Woods and Glen Doherty died defending the U.S. annex in Benghazi. And thanks to their bravery and their sacrifice, 30 Americans escaped the attack. Thirty Americans are alive today because of Ty and Glen.
Ty Woods was a guy who was always looking for a challenge, always waiting for the phone to ring and for the next big mission. Even though he got a scholarship to wrestle for the University of Oregon, Ty joined the SEALs at 18 because he thought it was the biggest challenge that he could set for himself. He earned a Bronze Star and a Combat V, but he also had a healer’s touch, and he eventually became a registered nurse and a certified paramedic. Over the years, he become an instructor and a mentor to younger SEALs, even after he retired from the Navy and began defending our embassies. Ty’s close-knit group of friends still miss him deeply, as do we. And our thoughts are with his wife, Dorothy, and their infant son.
Glen Doherty protected our diplomatic posts around the globe from Iraq to Afghanistan, and finally, to Libya. According to his SEAL buddies, Glen was, without a doubt, the most liked man you could ever hope to meet. Whether he was skiing or surfing, running or rafting, Glen always wanted to be doing something and always wanted to be connecting with other people. He wanted to be the man in the arena, the “doer of deeds,” as Teddy Roosevelt said. And Glen actually carried that famous speech with him for years as an inspiration. It spoke to the part of him that wanted to protect people and ultimately led him to sacrifice himself defending others. Glen was from my home state of Massachusetts, and I’ll never forget how the people of Boston came out to honor him, thousands of people standing watch in the street as his casket came by.
Ragaei Abdelfattah. He was killed during a suicide attack in Afghanistan last August while working for USAID. He was Egyptian by birth, but his friends and family called him the biggest flag-waving American they ever knew. He loved bad chain restaurants – (laughter) – bad romantic comedies, and dark chocolate, which is always good. Throughout his life, Ragaei demonstrated a deep passion for helping people develop their full potential. In fact, after finishing his first year in Afghanistan – his first tour that is – he promptly signed up for the second because, in his own words he said, “I have more work to do here. One year was not enough.”
Today we also add the names of two Foreign Service officers that we lost more than 40 years ago. It was another time, another war, but their devotion to their work was identical to the six that we lost this past year.
Joe Fandino served in the Air Force during the Korean War where he sat on the “black box” during missions, meaning it was his job to blow up the plane if it got into real trouble. So he was a man who understood high-stakes situations. He also had a tremendous sense of humor. On his first Foreign Service posting to the Dominican Republic, he was riding with the Ambassador, who just happened to be his future father-in-law, and the rioters began rocking the car. And the Ambassador asked, “Joe, what do you intend to do if things get really bad?” And Joe didn’t miss a beat. He just leapt up and said, “I’ll jump out of the car, tear off my tie, and yell ‘down with the Americans!’” (Laughter.) Joe’s family and friends cherish those memories of his charm and his ability to cut through the noise. He died in 1972 while serving in Vietnam with USAID.
Frank Savage used to ride his Harley around Europe while wearing a Levi jacket with a big American flag sewn onto the back of it. He was proud of his country, and he wanted everybody to know it. Frank volunteered to serve in Vietnam with USAID, and when he wasn’t on duty, he helped defend a local orphanage from Viet Cong attacks. He was severely injured in the 1965 terrorist bombing of My Canh, the floating restaurant, but after a year, he volunteered to go back. And Frank felt he that had a job to finish, which is characteristic of every single one of these people. Sadly, he became critically ill from his original wounds and he died in Saigon in 1967.
So when you look at situations where danger is part of daily life, you actually develop a different perspective about life itself. I remember that from my own tour of duty in Vietnam with the Navy, working alongside men who became my brothers. And we all came back after losing a lot of friends with a saying: Every day is extra.
Anne, Chris, Sean, Ty, Glen, Ragaei, Joe, and Frank didn’t get enough extra days. And their loss still is real and it’s raw. As friends, we miss their joy in living each day to its fullest, whether that was biking across the United States or talking with locals in a Libyan souk or building a replica of the Starship Enterprise entirely out of Legos. They did what made them happy. These were special people.
As a Department, we miss their love of this country, their belief in our work. And for those of us blessed with extra days, let each one of us honor their memory and recommit ourselves to the mission that they loved so much.
I served on the Foreign Relations Committee for 29 years. And for 26 of them, I was privileged to sit near the Vice President of the United States, then the chairman, and even before that, before he was chairman. I don’t think the United States of America has ever had a vice president who knows as much about foreign policy, as much about this Department, or who cares about it as much as Vice President Joseph Biden. And I’m privileged to introduce him to you now, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)