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. Jon 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 the embassy in Nassau when we received a secure teletype. The embassy annex in East Beirut had been bombed just before noon. 

A Chevy van with forged diplomatic plates had pulled up to a checkpoint manned by US-trained Lebanese militia. At the wheel was a Hezbollah tango who shot one of the Lebanese guards and laid on the gas. He zagged his way around the concrete barricades, taking rounds from the remaining guards. The van careened up the drive toward the embassy, 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 his ambassador’s Land Rover. Kenny Rogers opened up with his M-16 and put multiple rounds on the driver. The van slowed, veered, and rammed into a parked car. A moment later, 400 pounds of explosives detonated.

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

I looked at the name on the teletype. My gut turned a twist and I felt cold. Naw, that ain’t right. Ken is in 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. Kenneth is a common name. There's, what, a million people in the US Army? There’s got to be more than one “Kenneth Welch.” That's gotta be some other Ken Welch who got truck-bombed in Beirut. 

I pressed the embassy communications guys for more information. Sorry, all they had was what I had. A week later, the next issue of Newsweek came out and I grabbed a copy at a Bahamian news stand. I flipped through the pages and found an article titled: “More Madness in Bloody Beirut.”

I hoped to find a picture of some other Kenneth Welch. I hoped the person in that picture would be a stranger to me.

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.  

I was looking at the picture of our friend from Vietnam and Brussels and Tehran and Dublin. Our friend from Beijing. Our friend from Yaoundé.

In the investigation that followed, 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 grounds was accurate down to the curves of the winding driveway and placement of the concrete chicane. 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!