Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AFSA Memorial Plaque: The Missing Names


Laurence Pignarre Wyllie - Mother, Wife, Artist (40)
Evan Wyllie (7)
Baptiste Wyllie (5)

~ * ~

Last January, shortly after the Haiti earthquake, Secretary Clinton paid tribute to Andy Wyllie and the family he lost in Port-au-Prince.
“And for Andrew Wyllie, who inconceivably, unimaginably lost his wife on her birthday and his seven-and-a-half and five-year-old children, he mentioned specifically the names of those who had been working with him in these very difficult days to recover the bodies of his wife and children,” said Clinton.

On January 25, in a Daily Press Briefing, the State Department Spokesman answered questions about the official casualties: 
QUESTION: Can I ask you – just going back to that death toll --


QUESTION: -- four U.S. official deaths, meaning the three were dependents?

MR. CROWLEY: Three were dependents.

QUESTION: Well, they actually – so they – but they count as official? I mean, I’m not sure --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, they’re part of the official – they were there in an official status as accompanying family members in Haiti.

QUESTION: From the --

MR. CROWLEY: But they’re not – obviously, they’re not U.S. employees.

QUESTION: Okay. But – okay, but – and the --

MR. CROWLEY: They’re children or spouses of.

QUESTION: Four Embassy workers, State Department people?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes.

On May 17, Secretary Clinton also spoke at the U.S. Haiti Earthquake Victims Memorial Service held at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
"Laurence Wyllie was an artist and writer who got involved in the local arts scene wherever she lived, whether DC or the DRC. Through her husband Andy’s job, they explored the world with their sons Evan and Baptiste. Last fall, they moved to Port-au-Prince, where Andy was a UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance, on secondment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration here at State.

As I expressed to Andy in January, the families of our staff are members of the State Department family. And each serves in his or her own way. But it is their love and support that make it possible for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs every day, far from home. Laurence, Evan, and Baptiste made Andy’s work possible. His mission was their mission. And this family’s happiness and love for each other was evident to everyone they met, and the entire State Department shares in Andy’s loss."
Read more here:

Just ten days previously, the Secretary also presided over the AFSA Plaque Ceremony for three additional names added to the memorial: Victoria J. DeLong, Dale J. Gredler, and Terrence L. Barnich. Digger of Life After Jerusalem has posted about it here.

That ceremony gave me some pause.  I thought, how come Andy Wyllie's wife and children who died in that earthquake were not included in the Plaque Ceremony? They were in Haiti, after all, under official USG orders. I sent an email to AFSA President Susan Johnson. My email disappeared into a black hole. I thought, well, maybe the Prez is busy, so I sent a second email to the Veep asking the same thing.

The last time I look, my email box is twiddling its thumbs and still laughing at me. 

So I went to AFSA'S website where there is an explanation about the AFSA Memorial Plaque, and how it has expanded and has changed through the years. Read more here.

Here is the AFSA policy on the Memorial Plaque, republished in full below:

The active or "new" Memorial Plaque on the east side of the main entrance to the Department of State was dedicated in 1972. It bears the following inscription:

"Erected by the American Foreign Service Association in honor of those Americans who have lost their lives under heroic or other inspirational circumstances while serving the Government abroad in foreign affairs."


To include on the Plaque the names of those who have lost their lives under heroic or other inspirational circumstances distinctive to the Foreign Service. Death by accident or natural causes overseas, unless accompanied by heroic or inspirational circumstances, is not grounds for inclusion.


Eligibility for inclusion on the AFSA Memorial Plaque is limited to members of the Foreign Service and to U.S. citizen direct-hire employees of the five Foreign Affairs agencies serving the government abroad. In exceptional and compelling circumstances, the AFSA Governing Board may consider including other U.S. citizen direct-hire government employees serving abroad under Chief of Mission authority.

Additional Guidelines For Awards & Plaque Committee On Expanded Criteria "In the Line of Duty"

These guidelines are provided to help the Committee make judgments as to whether a death falls within the new criterion of "in the line of duty", recently established by the Governing Board, to be applied retroactively for Foreign Service personnel. The previous criteria of "heroic or inspirational" circumstances will continue to apply to all Americans serving under the Chief of Mission overseas.

• This criterion, like the earlier criteria, is meant to apply only to death outside the United States.
• Includes travel enroute to or from post
• May include death in the United States by disease or other cause that is the direct result of overseas duty (e.g. disease contracted overseas ).
• It includes any death that occurs in the active performance of official duties.
• It may include any death due to hazards distinctive to service overseas whether in the active performance of official duties or not. For instance:
• Disease related to particular circumstances of overseas assignment:
• If the danger of contracting such a disease is more than in the US;
• If death is related to the status of medical facilities.
• Crime related to particular circumstances of overseas assignment.
• Natural disasters related to particular circumstances of overseas assignment.
• The committee should consider excluding death due to negligent, reckless or selfish behavior, or death while in violation of law, on the grounds that the individual may have had an important degree of control over the situation.

So here's what confuses me -- pardon me, I get confuse a lot these days listening to Muttering Behind the Hardline's selected soundtrack; it seems like I'm getting a lot more white hair, too -- what was I saying? Oh, yes ...

1) If family members are "official" as on "an official status as accompanying family members," how come they are not considered official enough for inscribing in the official plaque when they die?

2) If family members are not considered "members of the Foreign Service" per AFSA policy and if the inclusion of family members killed overseas while on official order is not included in the AFSA Plaque policy, then who are the "members of the Foreign Service" for purposes of inscribing the names on the rock? Direct-hire career employees? How about 3161 employees? How about limited non-career appointees? How about CS employees on excursion tours in hard-to-fill assignments?    

3) If you are a member of AFSA, please write to your Governing Board and ask why this is. Local employees who die while serving the USG overseas, although considered by many the backbone of the Foreign Service are not included in the Memorial because they are not American citizens. It does not seem to matter that a lot of them have died in the line of duty in the last several years.  

Family members on the other hand may be American citizens or not, but are considered "members of the State Department family" especially when overseas under official orders.  But looks like that does not mean a lot when you die, does it?  

I don't know if this has to do with expense or a space in the wall, or what. I really don't. But I do find this disturbing  Of course, there are lots of things that are disturbing in the world, why be disturb by a memorial. I'll tell you why. When we see on the AFSA Memorial Plaque the name of Julian Leotis Bartley, Sr. who was killed in the Nairobi Embassy bombing in 1998, how many of us remembers that his son, Jay who was a summer intern at the embassy also died in that terrorist attack? Although his name is not in the AFSA memorial plaque, he is buried with his father in a national cemetery.  President Clinton issued a waiver permitting the Bartleys to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  If a President could do that for his final resting place, how come AFSA could not with its plaque? 

In twenty years, how many of us -- outside Andy Wyllie's family and friends would remember that Laurence, Evan and Baptiste were all killed in the Haiti earthquake? If you can tell me for sure that all the State Department and the Foreign Service would remember them, and honor their memories in 10, 20, 30 and so on years into the future, I'd consider shutting up.   


hannah said...

Incredible. I went to the memorial service at AU for the three of them in February. I don't think anyone can say that they weren't part of the FS community - there were so many people there, all sharing stories about them with love, humor, and grief.

I'm contacting AFSA today.

Jen said...

It's really sad, and terribly disturbing, but unfortunately it just doesn't surprise me at all.

Heather W. Torrance said...

It looks like I'm an outlier here, but I completely understand why they weren't included. The guidelines say it is for "members of the foreign service." I don't consider myself a member of the foreign service. Sure, I support my husband, and I follow him to many dangerous places around the world, but it's not the same thing as being an FSO.

I, for instance, would not be allowed to follow him to Iraq or Afghanistan. I am not called upon to help American citizens who are stranded. I don't talk to the host country government about tense situations. I wouldn't even be where I am if it weren't for the fact that my husband chose the foreign service. The memorial is about government service - it's not about being a member of a community.

This is just like the reason why contractors aren't given the same benefits as an officer or enlisted serviceman in the armed forces - they're not the employee. You have to draw the line somewhere, and I think drawing it where it has been drawn is entirely reasonable.