WASHINGTON - Let's take a break from the raging discord that has dominated Washington lately by remembering federal employees who died abroad in service to their country.
Actually, four of them are central to one of the controversies, last year's attack on the American post in Benghazi, Libya. But this piece will focus on the individuals who lost their lives and not on the political messaging that haunts their deaths.
Earlier this month, in what now seems like a quieter era, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry participated in the American Foreign Service Association plaque ceremony at the State Department.
Each year, recently added names to the plaque are unveiled. There are now 244 names, dating to 1780.
"This occasion is a special opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of our fallen Foreign Service colleagues and to recognize their significant contributions to American diplomacy and national security," AFSA President Susan Johnson said at the May 3 program.
Kerry, rather than just listing their names, told a little bit about each of the dead. Here is some of his tribute:
"Anne Smedinghoff was just 25 years old when she was killed in Zabul province, Afghanistan. I met her on my trip to Afghanistan, about a week before her death. And I remember her face - her permanent smile . . . she was killed carrying out a mission of hope, bringing books to Afghan children."
Smedinghoff, killed last month, was a marathon runner and a biker, according to a biography supplied by the association. In 2009, she rode from Baltimore to San Francisco to support the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
"Ambassador Chris Stevens . . . was killed in the terrorist attack at our diplomatic post in Benghazi, on Sept. 11, 2012. . . .
"Everyone felt like he was a personal friend. And in fact, for those of us on the Foreign Relations Committee, he was, because he worked there at one time."
Eight U.S. ambassadors have died in the line of duty. Before Stevens, the last one was in 1988.
"Sean Smith was killed in the same attack as Ambassador Stevens. He was serving literally as a one-man band to keep the Benghazi post running. . . .
"Sean, throughout his career, went places that other people didn't. He was the first to volunteer for Haiti after the earthquake, the first to volunteer for Japan after the Fukushima disaster. And so of course, he stepped up to serve in Benghazi.
"But with as much time and passion as he devoted to work, he also built a very rich network of friends." Smith, a big San Diego Chargers fan, was known to throw a great Super Bowl party and enjoyed online gaming.