A U.S. diplomat from suburban Chicago killed last month in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan was among those hailed for their courage and dedication in a Friday memorial service led by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Anne Smedinghoff, of River Forest, was the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year's attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Amid persistent Republican allegations that the Obama administration is trying to cover up the facts around the Benghazi incident, Biden and Kerry told the families of the fallen that they should be proud. They paid tribute to Benghazi victims Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Ty Woods, as well as Smedinghoff.
Also honored was foreign service officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, who was killed in Afghanistan last year while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The names of those six, along with diplomats Joseph Fandino and Francis Savage who were killed during the Vietnam war, were added to memorial plaques at the State Department as its employees celebrated Foreign Affairs Day.
These are "eight people who dedicated their lives to service and, to a person, each one sought out the most difficult assignments," Kerry said at the ceremony. "They understood the risks and yet they still raised their hands and said: 'Choose me.'"
Biden echoed the sentiment and noted that most Americans do not understand the conditions that diplomats work under in dangerous parts of the world.
"What they don't know, and you can't blame them for not knowing, is that in many places in the world, they are as much a soldier as anyone in uniform," he said. "What they don't know, and you can't expect them to know, is that they take risks that sometimes exceed those of the women and men in uniform."
"It takes a whole hell of a lot of courage and dedication to do the job your family members do," Biden said. "They do it willingly with a passion that astounds me."
Neither Biden nor Kerry made mention at the ceremony of the ongoing dispute between the administration and congressional Republicans over the administration's handling and response to the Benghazi attack. Stevens and the others were killed in an assault on a diplomatic mission there on Sept. 11, 2012. No one has been identified as responsible for the incident.