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Attendees of the Khobar Towers 25th Annual memorial ceremony salute during the playing of the national anthem, June 25, 2021, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Nineteen Airmen were killed and more than 400 other military personnel and civilians were injured in the blast.
Attendees of the Khobar Towers 25th Annual memorial ceremony salute during the playing of the national anthem, June 25, 2021, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Nineteen Airmen were killed and more than 400 other military personnel and civilians were injured in the blast. (Amber Litteral/U.S. Air Force)

EGLIN AFB, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The 19 U.S. Air Force airmen who died in the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia — including 12 from the Eglin Air Force Base’s 33rd Fighter Wing — were remembered for the 25th year Friday at the Eglin memorial established in their honor.

“Today, we embrace the fond memories of our fallen comrades,” said retired Air Force Col. Doug Cochran, who was commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron — part of the 33rd Fighter Wing — when a truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers on the night of June 25, 1996.

The bombing marked the start of a continuing war on terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

Cochran’s squadron had been scheduled to come home from Saudi Arabia just two days after the attack, and many airmen already were packing to leave when the explosion rocked the complex, killing the 19 airmen and injuring hundreds of other military personnel from the United States and partner nations.

Twenty-five years later, Cochran said, the fallen airmen continue to “leave a legacy of honor, strength and commitment. We try to emulate the love they had for their families, friends and our country, and we try to live up to their high standards. Gone, but not forgotten, our heroes are forever in our hearts and memories.”

As the eternal flame at the monument licked into the Friday morning air at the memorial — emblazoned with the likenesses of the 12 airmen of the 33rd Fighter Wing who died and the names of all 19 airmen who lost their lives — Cochran addressed some of his remarks to survivors of the attack.

“You have experienced an unimaginable trauma and endured the loss of friends and comrades,” Cochran said. “Many of you bear visible scars, (there are) many with invisible scars, and for some, both. This tragedy has taken its toll in sleepless nights, hypervigilance, fatigue and other symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress) over the years.”

Worried that some people with connections to the bombing might be experiencing flashbacks after seeing recent news coverage of the condominium tower near Miami that collapsed this week, or otherwise might be dealing with issues associated with the bombing, Cochran said, “Please know you are not alone. It is imperative that we talk to trained professionals and others about our painful experience.”

And at the same time, Cochran said, “We need to press on, live our lives and support each other ... Our fallen comrades would have insisted on this.”

Capt. Larry Spencer, the 33rd Fighter Wing’s chaplain, struck a similar note while offering a prayer at Friday’s remembrance.

“Lord,” Spencer prayed, “help us to see that remembering and honoring these heroes is only half of our mission. As I look at this wall, I see the hearts of 12 Nomads (the nickname for 33rd Fighter Wing personnel) who charge us today with ensuring we carry on their love for country, devotion to duty and memory as we take the watch and shoulder the cause of freedom.”

Also speaking was retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner, who commanded U.S. and partner-nation air operations for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia from August 1990 to April 1991.

Providing some historical perspective, Horner noted that the liberation of Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion as a result of Desert Shield and Desert Storm laid the foundation for terrorist retaliatory actions like the Khobar Towers bombing. The bombing, Horner said, now is ranked as the second largest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded, behind only the massive explosion of almost 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate last year in Beirut, Lebanon.

Acknowledging that military force has a role in combatting terrorism, Horner added, “We can only win ... by following the two great commandments — first that we love God, which will force us all to compel the rejection of evil, and that we love our neighbor, which will allow us to understand other people and come to find the good in them as human beings.”

“We need to reject hate wherever we find it, in ourselves or in others,” Horner said.

Col. Jon Wheeler, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, spoke briefly, telling the survivors, victims’ family members and others in attendance, “I’d like to thank you for the trust you have bestowed on the 33rd Fighter Wing to pay tribute to our heroes for the past quarter of a century.”

The Eglin airmen who died in the attack were Staff Sgt. Daniel B. Cafourek of Watertown, South Dakota; Sgt. Millard D. Campbell of Angelton, Texas; Senior Airman Earl F. Cartrette Jr. of Sellersburg, Indiana; Tech Sgt. Patrick P. Fennig of Greendale, Wisconsin; Master Sgt. Kendall Kitson of Yukon, Oklahoma; Airman 1st Class Brian W. McVeigh of Debary, Florida; Airman 1st Class Brent E. Marthaler of Cambridge, Minnesota; Airman 1st Class Peter J. Morgera of Stratham, New Hampshire; Tech. Sgt. Thanh V. Nguyen of Panama City, Florida; Airman 1st Class Joseph E. Rimkus of Edwardsville, Illinois; Senior Airman Jeremy A. Taylor of Rosehill, Kansas; and Airman 1st Class Joshua E. Woody of Corning, California.

They came from the wing’s 58th Fighter Squadron, 60th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Logistics Group, 33rd Maintenance Squadron and 33rd Operations Support Squadron.

Members of the Rimkus, Marthaler, Woody, Campbell and Nguyen families were in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.

Five of the remaining victims were stationed at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach. They were Capt. Christopher J. Adams of Massapequa Park, New York; Capt. Leland T. Haun of Clovis, California; Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser of Palm Coast; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Johnson of Shreveport, Louisiana; and Airman 1st Class Justin R. Wood of Modesto, California.

Other airmen killed in the blast were Staff Sgt. Ronald L. King of Battle Creek, Michigan, stationed at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base; and Airman 1st Class Christopher Lester of Pineville, West Virginia, stationed at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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(c)2021 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News at www.nwfdailynews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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