DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Sailors in dress whites, their slow steps measured by the beat of funeral drums, bore the bodies of the frigate Stark's dead from the cargo plane that brought them home Tuesday to a somber memorial ceremony in a cavernous airplane hangar.
The 37 men who died in an attack by an Iraqi warplane in the Persian Gulf were honored in a 15-minute ceremony before the bodies were taken away to be prepared for burial.
Heavy gray clouds hung leaden over the base that traditionally receives the bodies of U.S. servicemen who die abroad, and a sharp breeze bore an unseasonable chill.
One by one, three crews of eight men each brought 36 flag-draped metal transfer cases out of the huge C-141 Starlifter. Of the 36 bodies returned to the base, the 35 that will be prepared here for burial were honored in the ceremony. The remains of another sailor, whose name was not released at the request of the family, were shipped home about 90 minutes before the ceremony.
The body of the 37th victim, Operations Specialist Terrance Weldon, 20, of Coram, N.Y., has never been found, and the chief of naval operations, Adm. Carlisle A.H. Trost, said in his eulogy that Weldon may "remain forever on deployment."
Navy Band Plays
The caskets were carried at a formal, funereal pace 100 yards into a hangar and placed on cinder block pedestals. A single sailor stood at parade rest beside each casket.
It took an hour to unload the plane. The Navy Band stood to one side, alternating "The Navy Hymn" and "America the Beautiful" with a grim staccato drum roll.
Thirty-six people--family members of 14 of the victims--were on hand for the ceremony along with several hundred Navy and Air Force personnel.
The family members stood beside the path of the procession, many weeping and most of them shivering in the 50-degree temperatures despite blankets the Navy brought out for them. Officers stood at attention and saluted each time a casket, preceded by an officer, carried by six men and followed by another sailor, passed them. A four-man color guard stood to one side of the rear loading gate of the C-141.
'Ache in Our Hearts
In his eulogy, Adm. Trost called the attack a "strike of madness" and said that the deaths "are an ache in our hearts."
"We find it hard to understand why fate has singled them out. But we do know that they were doing a tough job . . . that they died in the service of their country, believing to the end in its wonderful ideals."
Rear Adm. John R. McNamara, chief of Navy chaplains, opened the ceremony, praying, "Under cover of darkness, like a thief in the night, death stole their lives but could not steal their souls.
"We reverence their memory, for you have told us peacekeepers will be forever known as sons of God."
Three members of the Stark's crew flew to Dover with the coffins. Lt. Stephen R. Hales represented the crew at the ceremony.
Charles C. Carson, base mortician, said all of the remains would be shipped to hometowns before the end of the week. The first were expected to leave today.