'May their names live on forever': Eglin's Khobar Tower bombing victims remembered

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

EGLIN AFB — A solemn milestone will be observed Friday morning at Eglin Air Force Base as airmen, family members and other guests assemble to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

The Hezbollah terrorist truck-bomb blast on June 25, 1996, outside Khobar Towers, on the grounds of the King Abdulaziz Air Base, injured hundreds of military personnel in the complex and claimed the lives of 19 Air Force personnel, including 12 airmen from the Eglin-headquartered 33rd Fighter Wing

Col. Michael Harner, the associate director of civil engineers at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., shows photos of himself June 9, 2016, following the terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. The photos included him receiving his Purple Heart and meeting former President Bill Clinton just days after the attack at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The attack killed 19 Airmen and injured more than 350 people.

The airmen were part of a much larger contingent of U.S. Air Force and partner-nation military personnel living in the Khobar Towers complex as they supported Operation Southern Watch. The operation included the enforcement of a no-fly zone over southern Iraq to keep then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from repressing Shi'ite Muslims and others in southern Iraq and possibly pushing into neighboring Kuwait.

From 2020:33rd Fighter Wing remembers airmen lost in Khobar Towers bombing

Friday's 9 a.m. ceremony will include presentations from what the 33rd FW's public affairs office is calling "special guests" with close connections to the wing. As in years past, the ceremony will be conducted at the Khobar Towers Memorial at Eglin, where the names of the victims are inscribed and an eternal flame burns in memory of the fallen airmen.

The ceremony will be livestreamed on Facebook for the general public at https://www.facebook.com/33rdfighterwinglive.

'A cross-section of the wing'

The Eglin airmen who died in the attack were Staff Sgt. Daniel B. Cafourek of Watertown, South Dakota; Sgt. Millard D. Campbell of Angelton, Texas; Senior Airman Earl F. Cartrette Jr. of Sellersburg, Indiana; Tech Sgt. Patrick P. Fennig of Greendale, Wisconsin; Master Sgt. Kendall Kitson of Yukon, Oklahoma; Airman 1st Class Brian W. McVeigh of Debary, Florida; Airman 1st Class Brent E. Marthaler of Cambridge, Minnesota; Airman 1st Class Peter J. Morgera of Stratham, New Hampshire; Tech. Sgt. Thanh V. Nguyen of Panama City, Florida; Airman 1st Class Joseph E. Rimkus of Edwardsville, Illinois, Senior Airman Jeremy A. Taylor of Rosehill, Kansas; and Airman 1st Class Joshua E. Woody of Corning, California.

Members of the 33rd Fighter Wing, family and friends of those killed during the Khobar Towers terrorist attack pay their respects during the 24th Khobar Towers Memorial Ceremony last year at Eglin Air Force Base.

The 12 airmen came from the wing's 58th Fighter Squadron, 60th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Logistics Group, 33rd Maintenance Squadron and 33rd Operations Support Squadron.

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"They represented a cross-section of the wing as crew chiefs, expeditors, weapons loaders, mechanics, production superintendents, program managers and technicians," according to an Eglin account of the incident.

Sadly, members of the 58th Fighter Squadron had been scheduled to leave Saudi Arabia on June 27, and already had been packing up to go home when the bombing occurred. 

Five of the victims were stationed at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, Florida. They were Capt. Christopher J. Adams of Massapequa Park, New York; Capt. Leland T. Haun of Clovis, California; Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser of Palm Coast, Florida; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Johnson of Shreveport, Louisiana; and Airman 1st Class Justin R. Wood of Modesto, California.

Other airmen killed in the blast were Staff Sgt. Ronald L. King of Battle Creek, Michigan, stationed at Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base; and Airman 1st Class Christopher Lester of Pineville, West Virginia, stationed at Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Clinton: 'May they rest in peace'

In addition to being memorialized at Eglin's memorial, the 19 airmen lost in the 1996 blast are remembered on the website of the Heiser Foundation. The nonprofit organization was founded by Heiser's parents to remember others who have suffered tragic losses, to assist those seeking further educational opportunities and to support other nonprofit organizations with similar missions.

As just a few examples of how the lost Eglin airmen are remembered, the Heiser Foundation website recalls Cafourek as a "consummate professional, indisputably recognized as the squadron’s finest crew chief;" remembers that Cartrette "drew clown cartoon characters on the squadron bulletin board to convey light-hearted messages to the squadron;" and notes that Rimkus "always wore a tie when he went to visit his grandma because she liked to see him in a tie."

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. The front of Building 131 was blown off exposing rooms like this one when a fuel truck parked nearby was detonated by terrorists.

Just days after the tragedy, then-President Bill Clinton came to Eglin to visit survivors of the attack and to remember the fallen airmen.

"Let us now praise these quiet American heroes who gave their lives in service to America. May they rest in peace and may their names live on forever," Clinton said during remarks delivered at the base.