Under Secretary Lago Remarks - April 3, 2022
April 3, 2022
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you to everyone, and most particularly our Croatian friends and colleagues, for joining us here today, and to all of those watching around the world.
We gather to remember an immeasurable loss—35 souls, Croatian and American, who were taken from us far too soon on the 3rd of April 1996.
We lost six U.S. Air Force crew members, serving their country far from home.
We lost 12 business leaders, seeking to bring the boundless opportunity of free commerce to a region that had suffered so much.
We lost a translator, working to ensure understanding between people, and two journalists, striving to make the world understand.
And we lost 14 public servants, who gave every ounce of themselves to forge a better world: a CIA expert on economic reconstruction; a Treasury colleague representing the United States at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; and 12 of our Commerce family, including five from the International Trade Administration—among them a whip smart newlywed, just launching her adult life and career; a special agent providing security, as gentle as he was imposing; and an irrepressible, larger than life Secretary of Commerce.
The loss of these women and men was felt acutely in marble hallways, boardrooms, offices and most especially homes in Washington, throughout the United States and here in Croatia. Although refracted through time, that loss endures, and remains especially painful for those who worked with—and loved—the departed.
I learned this from speaking to their colleagues who, to this day work in U.S. Government, and still bear the scars of their loss. I was told of the kindness, warmth and ability of those on the plane, as well as how the Commerce Department’s headquarters, an imposing building the size of a large city block, went into deep mourning for weeks.
While 26 years on, today, we continue to grieve the passing of 35 women and men working for peace and prosperity in a region torn by war. We gather to commemorate their loss, and to rededicate ourselves to the values that they carried with them, and their undying spirit of friendship and aid to those in need.
Then President Clinton described the trade mission led by Commerce Secretary Brown to the Balkans as one of “peace and hope” to “help to restore a broken land… to bring a better tomorrow through honest work and shared enterprise.”
How gratified the women and men on that plane would be to stand with us here today in Dubrovnik and see a NATO ally, a European Union member state and an economic success story in the region.
So too would they recognize storm clouds looming to the northeast, as once again our U.S. Government team arrives in a Europe shaken by war, but yearning for the promise of economic security and prosperity. I know that Secretary Brown and those he led would not be deterred by today’s challenge.
And I am certain that they would share my conviction that through partnership and collaboration we can continue to find our way together towards greater peace, prosperity and security.
This is the spirit of Ron Brown’s mission—and all who flew with him—on a stormy afternoon approaching this beautiful city of Dubrovnik 26 years ago.
By remembering today, we renew their mission in this spirit of peace, prosperity and economic security.
I am here today to commemorate this hallowed ground. Tomorrow, in Zagreb, I will join government and private sector colleagues from the United States and Croatia to celebrate 30 years of independence and friendship.
We will reflect on the enormous progress that Croatia and the other proudly independent countries of this region have made. We will extol the example that Croatia provides and explore opportunities for a brighter future together. And we will commit ourselves to prevailing over challenges ancient and new—from violence and tyranny to climate change and energy security.
Every time that I enter the lobby of our grand Commerce Department Building in Washington, D.C., I come face-to-face with the names of those lost that day.
Those names, forever etched in bronze, implore us all to continue the economic rebuilding work that they started 26 years ago, in a new but ever challenging context. We are here because we believe in their mission, and we accept their charge.
I ask all who hear this message to remember, and to join us in carrying that mission forward.
In solemn remembrance, I lay this wreath and speak the names of those we lost.
Dragica Lendic Bebek
Paul Cushman III
Robert Farrington Jr.