WASHINGTON -- The bodies of American hijack victims Charles Hegna and William Stanford were returned home just after dawn today and Vice President George Bushcalled for their terrorist murderers to be brought 'swiftly and surely to justice.'
Bush spoke briefly at Andrews Air Force Base after the steel gray, flag-covered caskets of the two Agency for International Development officers were carried with full military honors from an Air Force cargo plane that brought them from Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany.
The two men were killed by Arab-speaking gunmen who hijacked a Kuwait Airlines plane with 155 passengers and 11 crew members to Tehran, Iran, last week. The last of the seven hostages were released Sunday after a six-day ordeal.
'We bring home to the firm soil of America two of her sons brutally murdered as they served their country,' Bush said. 'On behalf of the president and all Americans we mourn the loss of Chuck Hegna and Bill Stanford.
'We open our hearts to their families and we share their pain and outrage.'
With more than a dozen members of the victims' families assembled on the tarmac in near frezing temperature, Bush described the dead Americans as 'husbands and fathers, good and decent men' and 'we shall remember them with honor.'
The vice president said, 'We shall know their murderers with the long memory of those who believe in patient but certain justice. Wanton murder of the innocent is terrorism that no amount of incantation can disguise.'
In a message apparently aimed at Iran, Bush said, 'So let us renew again our call for all nations to uphold justice before mankind, to condemn terrorism for the brutal cowardice that it is, to resolve that civilized nations can and must resist terrorism and to demand that governments have the decency to bring to justice terrorists, bring them swiftly and surely to justice.'
In a tough statement Tuesday, the United States criticized Iran for encouraging what it called 'the extreme behavior' of the gunmen and for the murder and torture of the hostages that took place 'without any effective measures being taken by the government of Iran.'
After his brief remarks that were carried on television, Bush called for a moment of silence to 'resolve that these good and decent men shall not have died in vain.'
Bush then shook hands and expressed his condolences personally to the members of the Hegna and Stanford families.
The cargo plane arrived at 7:17 a.m. EST. After the ceremony, the caskets were placed in an awaiting white hearse. No burial details were immediately available.
AID Administrator M. Peter McPherson condemned the slayings of the two men.
McPherson said the men were returning to their post in Karachi, after completing an audit in Yemen when the Kuwaiti airways plane was hijacked.
'The physical and psychological torture and relentless death threats against our citizens, both private and official, are acts of barbarism, worsened only by the heinous murder of two innocent American public servants,' he said.
The White House joined in the criticism Tuesday and said Iran 'clearly encouraged extreme behavior' by hijackers who murdered two Americans and warned the Khomeini government it must bring the sky pirates to justice.
Deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes said Reagan 'has a sense of outrage' that the terrifying drama continued for six days. 'Many aspects of the government of Iran's handling of this situation raise profound and disturbing questions, to which we are seeking answers,' he said.
Hegna, 57, was last stationed in Karachi with AID, which he joined in 1966 as an auditor.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he served in the U.S. Navy. His AID tours of duty took him to Guatemala, Vietnam, the Philippines and Pakistan.
Hegna is survived by his wife, Edwina, and their three children.
Stanford, 52, was a senior foreign service officer with AID, which he joined in 1961. Born in Chicago, he served as an accountant and auditor with the agency in Thailand, Pakistan, Greece and Turkey and as a regional auditor working out of Panama.
He also served in the Marines and is survived by the former Lorraine Patrick and four children.