U.S. troops in Philippines mark hostage anniversary
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines ? U.S. troops held a memorial service Saturday to observe a year since the death of a Kansas missionary and another hostage during a raid to free them from Islamic extremists.
Missionary Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were killed on June 7, 2002 in the U.S.-backed raid against Abu Sayyaf rebels. Burnham’s wife, Gracia, was rescued and returned home to Rose Hill, Kan.
During the ceremony at a chapel in Camp Navarro, in the city of Zamboanga, U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Scott Nupson recalled the final hours before the raid in the jungle of Zamboanga del Norte province.
Nupson said the Burnhams and Yap had just finished praying and had lain down in their hammocks for a nap when fighting erupted.
“The Abu Sayyaf apparently thought they were doing Allah a favor by showing hate and inflicting pain and suffering on others,” Nupson said. “But that is not what God desires. He tells us … that we ought to love one another.”
Col. Allan D. Walker, commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force, which is training Philippine light infantry battalions, recounted the raid for U.S. Special Forces soldiers now in the Philippines to train Filipino troops in counterterrorism techniques.
“The story is not finished and our combined military forces are still fighting to eliminate those that caused Martin and Ediborah’s suffering,” said Walker, who was then deputy commander of the U.S. troops involved in the training maneuvers.
He later showed a copy of Gracia Burnham’s newly published book, “In the Presence of My Enemies,” that she had autographed for him.
The book relates the Burnhams’ 376-day ordeal after Abu Sayyaf rebels seized them from a Philippine island resort where they were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary on May 27, 2001. They were missionaries for the Florida-based New Tribes Mission.
The book aroused controversy in the Philippines because of Burnham’s allegations that an unnamed Filipino general tried to get half of a possible ransom for the hostages and that soldiers delivered food and sold weapons to the guerrillas.
A senior Philippine Justice Department official visited Burnham in Rose Hill last month to question her as part of an official investigation.