A day of remembrance for the heroes we lost 20 years ago
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Twenty years ago today, 12 Americans lost their lives to a horrific act of terror while proudly serving the United States overseas. As those of us affected by this tragedy mark its 20th anniversary, our nation must come together to ensure the sacrifice of these brave Americans is never forgotten by designating Aug. 7 an official day of remembrance for U.S. diplomats killed abroad.

On Friday, Aug. 7, 1998 at around 10:30 a.m. local time, a Toyota truck packed with 20 wooden crates carrying 500 cylinders of TNT, ammonium nitrate and a detonating cord was parked on the road next to the five-story U.S. Embassy building in Nairobi, Kenya. 

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The vehicle had been driven to that location by a 24-year-old Saudi Al-Qaeda terrorist, who was accompanied by his 21-year-old Saudi Al-Qaeda passenger. Both men were prepared to become martyrs in an event that would take the lives of nearly 300 innocent people and become the precursor to the more deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

One of the terrorists detonated the explosives, causing an enormous shudder of sound — shaking the city and sending a pillar of fire and dust into the Nairobi morning sky.

Simultaneously, 418 miles south, the U.S. Embassy in Dar Es Salam, Tanzania was also bombed. In total, 5,000 people were injured that day and 258 people were killed, including my father Julian Bartley, 55, a career diplomat and the U.S. Consul General, and my brother, interning at the embassy.

Among the other American victims were other diplomats, intelligence officers and military personnel. Fortunately, no Americans were killed in the Dar Es Salam bombing.

At the time of the Kenya bombing, I was visiting family 8,000 miles away in Nashville, Tenn. A 25-year-old law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I had just completed a summer internship in New York at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in the Domestic Violence Division. Normally, I would visit my family abroad during my summers, but I only had one week before fall classes began, so I decided to hold off on going to Kenya.

There were three arduous federal criminal trials in New York connected to the bombings, with the hope of holding accountable the government sponsors of the attacks and delivering justice to the American victims and the families of those killed. For years, I walked the halls of Capitol Hill working with both Republicans and Democrats to get compensation for the victims’ families.

Aug. 7 is a day to remember, as a nation, the sacrifice, dedication and courage that our diplomats, intelligence personnel and military make every day at our embassies around the world. Although most Americans do not typically think of it in this way, our diplomats, and those who support them, are working on the front lines in some of the most dangerous areas across the globe.

For those of us whose lives have been shattered by terrorism, our sorrow never really goes away. Both my dad and brother are buried at Arlington National Cemetery - their silver caskets are forever etched in my mind. For the victims of the East Africa embassy bombings, and the families who still grieve, the pain is as real today as the day the caskets of our loved ones came home.

As I reflect on Aug. 7, 1998 — now as a wife and mother myself — I want to ensure this day is remembered not just by my daughter and others directly affected by the Nairobi bombing, but by all of us who are kept safe by U.S. diplomats and embassy personnel around the world.

Edith Bartley is the spokesperson for Families of the American Embassy Bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, and an advocate for diplomatic families.