Thursday, April 11, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Conclusion)

[[To follow Ken's story from the beginning, Click here.]]

Jon Wertjes and I left Yaoundé later that year, toward the end of 1983. He was off to New Zealand and I was headed to my next duty station at our embassy in the Bahamas. I said goodbye to Ken on the weed-lined tarmac of the Yaoundé Ville Airport.  

He was looking forward to his upcoming transfer, taking Linda and their two boys to his next assignment at the US Embassy in Beijing. I shook his hand and we promised to keep in touch. Ken was 32 years old.




The 20th of September 1984 was a Thursday. I was on duty at our embassy in Nassau when we received a secure teletype. The embassy annex in East Beirut had been attacked just before noon by a Hezbollah tango driving an explosive-laden truck. 

The Chevy van with forged diplomatic plates pulled up to a checkpoint manned by US-trained Lebanese militia. The driver shot one of the guards, floored it, and zagged his way through the serpentine concrete barricades, taking rounds from the remaining Lebanese guards. The van careened up the drive toward the embassy building, where British Ambassador David Meirs was in a meeting with US Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew. 

The Brit’s bodyguard, a Scot by the name of Kenny Rogers, was waiting by the ambassador’s Land Rover. Rogers opened up with an M-16, putting multiple rounds into the driver. The van slowed, veered, and rammed into a parked vehicle. 400 lbs of explosives detonated.

Killed were 10 Lebanese employees, a Navy Petty Officer named Michael Wagner, and an Army Chief Warrant Officer by the name of Kenneth Welch.

Looking at the name on dot-matrix printout, my gut gave a little twist and I felt cold. Naw, that ain’t right. Ken was supposed to go to Beijing, not Beirut. He wouldn't even be halfway through a two-year tour in China. No way he’d be in Lebanon. 

Welch is a common name, right?  Kenneth is a common name. There’s got to be more than one “Kenneth Welch” in the... how many are there?  1.5 million people in the Army? There’s got to be more than one. My Ken Welch is in Beijing. Some other Ken Welch must have gotten truck-bombed in Beirut. 

I pressed the embassy communications guys for more information. All they had was what I had, sorry. A week later, the next issue of Newsweek came out and I grabbed a copy at a Bahamian drug store up the street from the embassy. I flipped through the pages to find an article titled “More Madness in Bloody Beirut.”

I hoped to find a picture of this so-called Kenneth Welch. I hoped the face in that picture would be a stranger to me. I hoped it would be some other Ken Welch. 

There was a picture. It was a youthful photo of my friend from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Probably a high-school graduation picture and he looked like a kid.  


Our friend from Vietnam and Brussels and Tehran and Dublin. Our friend from Beijing.  

Our friend from Yaoundé.

In the investigation after the blast, satellite reconnaissance photographs found a scale layout of the embassy annex, nested in a Hezbollah training camp in Lebanon’s Beka'a Valley. The replica of the embassy ubuilding was accurate down to the curves of the winding driveway and placement of the concrete barriers. Hezbollah had been surveilling the annex, and practicing this attack for months. Ken transferred from the main embassy compound in West Beirut to the annex in East Beirut only two months before the attack.

Since Vietnam, Ken had Cerberus snapping at his trouser cuffs. He’d dodged disaster in Saigon. He’d ducked it Tehran.

In the end, in Beirut, Ken could not outrun Abaddon.







Previous:

     Part I
     Part II
     Part III
     Part IV
     Part V
     Part VI

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Thanks for sharing yet another great work...another piece of your fascinating life.


Jeff

Anonymous said...

WELL WRITTEN SAID A FATHER TO HIS SON.

Joe said...

Is that you, Dad? Thanks!