SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt — On the seaward side of a barren, sun-bleached hill at the southern tip of the Sinai Desert, the surviving members of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, gathered Monday to mourn the 248 soldiers and eight crew members killed in last week's crash of a chartered Arrow Air jetliner.
The mourners, taking time out from their peacekeeping duties in the Sinai, were not dressed in their Sunday best but in battle fatigues and combat boots. Some cried when a soldier with a guitar got up and sang "When Peace Like a River," a song written by an American missionary whose wife and children were lost at sea.
A poem by Chief Warrant Officer Allen Bruce, whose best friend was aboard the ill-fated flight, was also read. Entitled "Solace," it spoke of the tears that everyone felt when "the word came that I had lost my dear friend."
Later, from high on a ridge overlooking the gathering and the Gulf of Aqaba, seven riflemen fired three volleys of shots out to sea and a lone bugler played "Taps."
Others Returning Home
The mourners, totaling 400, included about 220 members of the 101st, who are themselves to return home this week, as well as their replacements, senior officers and other members of the 11-nation peacekeeping force known as the Multinational Force and Observers.
The victims of Thursday's plane crash in Gander, Newfoundland, were the third contingent of peacekeepers returning to the United States since mid-November after completing a six-month tour of duty in the Sinai.
Maj. Steve Roy of Montgomery, Ala., the battalion's senior surviving officer, eulogized the dead soldiers as heroes for "the cause of peace, men who came here to the Sinai and gave their utmost in every way" to help Egypt and Israel abide by the terms of their 1979 peace treaty.
"The measure of their contribution to peace is still unfolding," Roy said in a voice quavering with emotion. "Lasting peace between the people of Egypt and Israel will be their memorial."
Service at El Gorah
Another service was held at the peacekeeping force's headquarters at El Gorah in the northern Sinai, but reporters were allowed to attend only the service here at the American base camp and only on condition that they not interview the soldiers. Each reporter was assigned an escort officer to ensure that the rules were followed.
Lt. Gen. Egil Ingebrigsten of Norway, the commander of the Multinational Force and Observers, said the restriction was necessary because notification of the crash victims' relatives was continuing.
The soldiers who gathered on a windy hill on a remote patch of sand were not the only ones to spend Monday in mourning.
Three hundred miles away, in a working-class suburb of Cairo, the family of Farid Armanious was also in mourning for one of the victims, Sgt. Ibrahim (Abe) Karadsheh, 25, of Warren, Mich.
Karadsheh, of Jordanian descent, was a translator with the 101st who lived with the Armanious family for two weeks last month to improve his Arabic. He and four other linguists were placed with Egyptian families under a program arranged by Colin Davies, the director of a language institute in Cairo. Three of the five perished in the Arrow Air crash.
Armanious, a customs inspector, at first did not want to accept the fact that "Mr. Abe," as the family called him, was dead. "Mr. Abe lived close to Canada," he said in broken English, "so maybe he got off there."
When told this was not the case, he bit his lip, and fidgeted with his hands and searched his small living room for a place to rest his gaze. Finding none, he thought for a moment and said slowly: "Mr. Abe was a great man. I loved him to the same degree as a son."
When first approached by Davies, the family was reluctant to take in an American soldier. It was shortly after the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, when anti-American sentiment was running high in Egypt, and Armanious was afraid he might get in trouble with Egyptian authorities.
"We at first were very discreet about having him," Armanious admitted. "But later, when we got to know him, we realized he was a person we should be proud to have in our house.
"He told me all about his family," added Armanious' son, Medhat, 18. "His father is retired as an electrician and his mother is a hairdresser and he has a brother and two sisters. One is named Rosemary and she is engaged to a doctor who is a great surgeon of the heart.
"We want to go see them, to comfort them," he added. "Please tell them we are very, very sorry for Mr. Abe."