MONUMENT TO LOCKERBIE RECALLS TRAGEDY, TOGETHERNESS
Tuesday, December 21, 1993
|On Dec. 21, 1988, Pan American Flight 103 had been en route to New
from Frankfurt, Germany, when a bomb exploded in its baggage compartment. Seconds later, and 31,000 feet below, the people of Lockerbie, Scotland, saw a V-shaped fireball tumbling out of the sky, then a "a rain of fire" as wings and bodies and engines fell onto the houses and fields, killing 11 villagers in addition to the 259 people on board.
"Appalling . . . horrific" is how one man described the scene.
The obscure town of Lockerbie became instantly synonymous with the bombing of Pan Am 103, and the word Lockerbie may be linked forever with the worst of terrorism.
But to Horgan and many of the other American families who lost someone in that rain of fire, Lockerbie has become more than the scene of smoldering wreckage and sheet-draped bodies.
Thanks to the "amazing kindness" and "warmth" and "giving" that the stunned townspeople somehow managed to show them during their mutual ordeal, many of the U.S. families can speak now of Lockerbie (albeit tearfully) as a place of "comfort" and even "serenity" that transformed their terrible losses into enduring friendships.
And today, in groundbreaking ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, President Clinton will dedicate the site of a monument to all who died on Pan Am Flight 103.
To be built from 270 stones cut from a local quarry and donated by the people of Lockerbie, the memorial will be in the form of a traditional Scottish cairn, or stone tower. Standing 11 feet tall, with a flat conical cap, the cairn's 270 blocks of reddish-brown sandstone will represent the passengers, crew members and townspeople who died five years ago today.
The plaque suggested by the Scots would read:
In Remembrance of all victims of Lockerbie Air Disaster who died on Dec. 21, 1988
"We've waited three years for this," Horgan said last week, sitting in his office at Horgan Bros. Construction Co. in North Wales. Downstairs, in his warehouse, the stones have sat in eight wooden crates since 1991.
Although President George Bush had endorsed the Arlington cairn,
Horgan said, officials at the cemetery repeatedly rejected the idea of
"Arlington's the most appropriate place, because this was an attack on the American flag on the tail of that plane - not the people on board," said Horgan, who wants the U.S. government to force Libya - by any means necessary - to turn over two suspects believed to have planted the bomb.
Horgan believes a trial in the United States or Britain would provide healing and closure to the victims' families, and could reveal involvement in the bombing by the governments of Libya, Syria or Iran.
"You can call what they did 'terrorism,' " he said, "but they were waging war on us." Arlington National Cemetery, he added, "is a place we can go and remember our loved ones."
To the families of the 189 Americans who died in the bombing, the cairn also will serve as a symbol of their abiding friendship with the people of Lockerbie.
Horgan, now 40, was the first American family member to arrive in Lockerbie after the bombing.
Scottish officials tried to shield him from scenes of horror. But Horgan insisted instead on visiting the crater, in the neighborhood of Sherwood Crescent, where the fuselage had landed in a fireball on a row of homes, incinerating it and 11 occupants.
He saw the 18-foot-deep hole drilled by a plummeting engine. He visited the small courtyard where 61 bodies and debris had landed without injuring anyone in the surrounding homes, and he saw the skating rink that had been turned into a morgue.
Then he drove six miles out of town to the rolling fields of Tundergarth, where the nose and cockpit of the giant Boeing 747 seemed to have floated gently out of the sky.
"I just stood there looking at it," Horgan recalled. "It looked so peaceful up there, I hated to leave it."
It was during this tour of the crash sites that Horgan encountered the first of the many kindnesses by the people of Lockerbie.
"I was walking back from the crater (in Sherwood Crescent), and a woman on the street stopped and just put flowers in my hands," Horgan said, shaking his head. "I thought: 'Their town is totally devastated. How do these people have room for this much compassion?' "
But Angus Kennedy, the police superintendent from Glasgow sent to supervise the investigation, was surprised and annoyed when he learned that Horgan had slipped his official escort to visit the sites, Horgan said. "Why?" Kennedy demanded. "I had to see," Horgan said he replied.
Kennedy weighed the answer and made him a deal: "If you'll talk to all the press out there, you can have all the access you want," Kennedy said. Horgan agreed and, ashen-faced and emotionally drained, stepped before a brutalizing international news conference that gave him an enduring distaste for publicity.
After that, Horgan never stopped being an insider. When other families began to arrive, he urged Kennedy to let them see the sites. "They don't want a sanitized version of what happened," he told officials.
Soon every visiting family of the victims had a townsperson - or an entire family - assigned to them to provide escort and consolation, a practice that continues.
Horgan's visits also continued; he has made 10 of them, a recent one even taking him to attend Kennedy's wedding.
Back in the States, Horgan helped found and run the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a national support group for the families. His efforts consumed virtually every weekend and hours of every workday.
"I'm afraid we all owned poor Joe for the next few years," laughed Adelaide Marek of Brookfield, Conn., whose 30-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, died in the bombing. But the organization's membership "became a family," Marek said. "I don't know what I'd have done without them."
When she was widowed several months after the bombing (her husband, Bill, had a heart attack), the other families "all rallied around us. It was absolutely wonderful."
When she visited Lockerbie in August 1989, Marek discovered that her new ''family" extended there, too. "I fell in love with Lockerbie," she said. "And the people were amazing, so absolutely amazing. It wasn't like visiting a death scene at all."
Eileen Monetti of Cherry Hill, whose 20-year-old son, Rick, was also on board, concurred.
"When there weren't a lot of people you liked in the world (after the bombing), the people of Lockerbie were a beacon of light," she said. "People often think of the Scots as aloof, but they were always so kind. It would be nice if (Lockerbie) could be remembered for kindness instead of destruction. That's one of the reasons this memorial is so important."
Construction of the cairn is expected to begin as early as June, said Horgan, who on Thursday loaded 10 of the 40-pound stones into his pickup truck and drove them to Arlington National Cemetery for today's ceremonies.
Rough on the front but smooth and carefully angled on the sides, each of these handsome stones is numbered to designate its location in each course, or layer, of the gently tapered and hollow cairn.
Pronounced "carr'n" by the Scots, such a monument was used more
than 1,000 years ago to memorialize soldiers slain in battle. These stones
And it was only last week, as he walked back to his truck after delivering the 10 stones, that Horgan learned who would be supervising construction of the cairn.
"We want you to do it," said the cemetery's family liaison, meaning Horgan and Frank Klein of Flemington, N.J., a builder whose son died in the bombing.
"It took me a few seconds to realize what he was saying," Horgan said. ''I had always hoped we'd be able to do it, but we never thought it was possible.
"It just speaks for itself. It's so simple and so beautiful," he said. ''Kind of like the Scottish people."