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25 Years Later: Honoring the Memory of the Lives Lost on April 3, 1996

April 2, 2021

Diane Farrell is the Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade

A stainless steel cross memorializes Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 34 others in Croatia.
A stainless steel cross memorializes Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 34 others in Croatia.

April 3, 1996 is a somber day in the history of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (ITA). On that day 25 years ago, a flight carrying Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown and 34 others crashed in poor weather on approach to Dubrovnik, Croatia and all aboard perished. Among the victims were 11 other Commerce officials, including five of our own from ITA.

They were on a trade mission to not only support U.S. business interests, but to assist and enable the development of a newly independent Croatia. In the words of President Bill Clinton, they were on a “mission of peace and hope,” and “[t]hey believe that America, through their efforts, could help to restore a broken land, help to heal a people of their hatreds, help to bring a better tomorrow through honest work and shared enterprise.”

This is important work and it is the work we do at ITA.

We honor their legacy by presenting awards in their memory each year. I would like to ask you to please take a moment with me to commemorate those five ITA employees whose loss we still feel.

ITA Employees from left to right: Stephen Kaminski, Charles Meissner, Bill Morton, Lawrence Payne, Naomi Warbasse

Stephen Kaminski, 40, was a Senior Commercial officer in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service serving in Vienna, Austria and developing Commerce’s strategy for Croatia and Bosnia. He joined the Department of Commerce as an international economist for the Maritime Administration in 1975 and went on to serve postings as a commercial officer in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. For his work in Japan, Stephen was awarded the Department of Commerce Gold Award for working to ensure U.S. companies would enjoy access to major projects in Japanese markets. Each year, ITA awards The Stephen C. Kaminski Award in Stephen’s honor to the ITA employee who exercised the greatest degree of diplomatic skill and ability in furthering trade relations with one or more of America’s trading partners during the previous year. Stephen hailed from Baltimore, Maryland and was a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Charles “Chuck” Meissner, 54, was serving as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Economic Policy and responsible for international commercial policy development. He was the key policy adviser to Secretary Brown in promoting economic stability in the post-war environment. Prior to his work in ITA, Chuck spent 20 years in the private and public sectors working on financial, monetary, and trade policy. He began his government career as the Japan Desk Officer and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Department of Treasury in 1971 and held distinguished posts as part of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, throughout the State Department, on the Economic Committee of NATO and as the U.S. negotiator on North-South issues in the United Nations and others at the Chemical Bank and World Bank. The Charles F. Meissner Award is awarded by ITA every year in Chuck’s honor to the ITA unit that best exemplified the ideals of dedication to excellence, selfless commitment to duty, and cooperation with others in the accomplishment of ITA goals during the previous year. Chuck was a Wisconsin native, held three degrees from the University of Wisconsin, and received multiple decorations during his U.S. Army service in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.

William “Bill” Morton, 35, was serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Development and was a long-time trusted aid to Secretary Brown coordinating the Secretary’s travel and helping develop, manage, and implement Secretary Brown’s trade missions and conferences. He was a consistent help in shaping the purpose, tone, message, and logistics for Secretary Brown. Bill previously served in the Department as Assistant Director for Operations and Regional Management at the Minority Business Development Agency where he oversaw the operations of five regional offices, four district offices, and Washington, D.C.-based staff. The William E. Morton Award is awarded in Bill’s honor each year to the ITA employee who made the strongest contribution during the previous year to increasing opportunities, within ITA or in the U.S. international trading community, for members of historically disadvantaged groups. Bill was a Georgetown University graduate and a Colorado native.

Lawrence “Lawry” Payne, 41, was a Special Assistant in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s Office of Domestic Operations. Prior to his service in the Department of Commerce, Lawry had staffed former Senator Paul Tsongas as a legislative assistant focused on trade and foreign policy issues, worked on multiple presidential campaigns, spent time on Wall Street, and was the owner and operator of an independent chain of homemade gourmet ice cream and yogurt shops in New England. The Lawrence M. Payne Award is awarded to the ITA employee who did the most to create and facilitate cooperative efforts between the public and private sectors to promote international trade during the prior year in Lawry’s honor. Lawry was a bicyclist and photographer with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

Naomi Warbasse was the Deputy Director of the Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center (CEEBIC) and at 24 was the youngest of the delegation. As part of her duties with CEEBIC, Naomi provided business counseling to U.S. companies interested in exporting to or investing Central and Eastern European countries with a focus on CEEBIC’s Poland and Bosnia programs. She was also the desk officer for Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Among her accomplishments with Commerce were working White House conferences for trade and investment in Central and Eastern Europe and Ireland and the Fourth West-East Conference of Ministers of Economy, Industry and Trade of the G-7 and Reforming Countries. The Naomi P. Warbasse Award is awarded to the most outstanding new ITA employee exemplifying the ideals of excellence, dedication and achievement in Naomi’s honor each year. Naomi began her studies at Johns Hopkins University at 16 and after receiving her Bachelor’s in Political Science, earns a Masters in Eastern European Studies at George Washington University.

Our five ITA colleagues, led by Secretary Brown, were accompanied by 29 other U.S. government officials, corporate executives, aircrew, Croatian citizens and media who also lost their lives in this noble pursuit. Let us also remember them.

U.S. Department of Commerce

  • Duane Christian, Security Officer
  • Adam N. Darling, Confidential Assistant, Office of the Deputy Secretary
  • Gail E. Dobert, Deputy Director, Acting Director, Office of Business Liaison
  • Carol L. Hamilton, Press Secretary and Acting Director of the Office of Public Affairs
  • Kathryn E. Hoffman, Special Assistant to the Secretary
  • Kathryn E. Kellogg, Confidential Assistant, Office of Business Liaison

Other U.S. Government agencies

  • Lee F. Jackson, Executive Director, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), U.S. Department of Treasury
  • James M. Lewek, Economic Reconstruction Expert, Interagency Balkan Task Force, Central Intelligence Agency

Corporate Executives

  • Barry L. Conrad, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Barrington Group, Miami
  • Paul Cushman III, Chairman and Chief Executive of Riggs International Banking Corp., Washington, DC
  • Robert E. Donovan, President and Chief Executive of ABB Inc., Norwalk, CT
  • Claudio Elia, Chairman and Chief Executive of Air & Water Technologies Corp., Branchburg, NJ
  • David Ford, President and Chief Executive of InterGuard Corp., the Luxembourg Subsidiary of Guardian Industries, Auburn Hills, MI
  • Frank Maier, President of Enserch International Ltd., Dallas
  • Walter J. Murphy, Vice President of Global Sales at AT&T Submarine Systems, Morristown, NJ
  • Leonard J. Pieroni, Chairman and Chief Executive of Parsons Corp., Pasadena, CA
  • John Scoville, Chairman of Harza Engineering Co., Chicago
  • Donald Terner, President of Bridge Housing Corp., San Francisco
  • Stuart Tholan, Senior Vice President of Bechtel Enterprises, San Francisco
  • Robert A. Whittaker, Vice President of Foster Wheeler Corp., Clinton, NJ

Media

  • Nathaniel C. Nash, New York Times, Frankfurt Bureau Chief

Crew

  • Captain Ashley J. Davis, Pilot
  • Captain Timothy W. Schafer, Co-Pilot
  • Staff Sgt. Gerald Aldrich, Crew Chief and Flight Mechanic
  • Staff Sgt. Robert Farrington Jr., Steward
  • Technical Sgt. Shelly A. Kelly, Steward
  • Technical Sgt. Cheryl A. Turnage, Steward

Croatians

  • Niksa Antonini, Photographer
  • Dragica Lendic Bebek, Interpreter

Again, the words of President Clinton spoken at Dover Air Force Base 25 years ago are appropriate to recall again today: “In their memory and in their honor, let us resolve to continue their mission of peace and healing and progress.” The work continues.