by Safraz Waseem Ishmael

Today (Friday, March 07, 1997) I had the honor of bidding a final farewell to our dear President Cheddi Jagan as his body left Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC with full military honors.

At around 8:30am this morning, a Guyana Airways Boeing 757, the national flag carrier of the Republic of Guyana, touched down at Andrews Air Force Base. On board was a delegation of about 80, including 36 honor guards of the Guyana Defence Force, Parliamentarians, Ministers of the Government and other dignitaries.

Inside a VIP room, a goodbye ceremony was held for Dr. Jagan by the US Government. It was indeed a sad event as I witnessed the tears of strong men who none would have thought were capable of such a great show of emotions. Nevertheless, the event was very dignified and our well dressed soldiers and members of the Government present, made one feel proud to be Guyanese. Most of the Guyanese delegation wore black arm bands while others wore buttons with Dr. Jagan's picture.

At the ceremony the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State delivered remarks on behalf of the US Government noting Dr. Jagan's important role in Guyana and the Caribbean and his recent close ties with the United States.

Minister Reepu Daman Persaud also gave thanks to the United States for all that it had done in attempting to save our President's life. The Walter Reed doctors who had worked on Dr. Jagan were also present and received many thanks. Dr. Cheddi "Joey" Jagan Jr., with his head shaved in the Hindu tradition after the loss of a father, also delivered thanks to both the Government of the US and to the Guyana Government for all they had done for his family in this ordeal. He was moved to tears as he read a poem he had written for his dying father.

Meanwhile outside, the Guyanese jet waited as United States Military personnel, dressed in blue uniforms and blue coats, marched by in formation and stood at attention besides a black hearse which had entered the tarmac with the body of the President.

The well over one hundred people inside exited the VIP room and on to the tarmac where the Guyana Airways plane waited. Out of the plane marched 36 soldiers dressed in green camouflage and red berets. They were the Honor Guard of the Guyana Defence Force, here on foreign soil to take their President home. They marched beside the airplane and then to the hearse where they formed a line from the hearse to the plane.

The US Air Force band then began a slow and beautiful, yet very sad, rendition of "Dear Land of Guyana" as five cannons behind the aircraft began their booming shots. The cannons gave the President a fitting 21 Gun Salute as US Marine and Navy soldiers delivered the casket with our President to the airplane.

It was a very emotional event as Dr. Jagan's casket, draped in the Golden Arrowhead, was carried and laid into the plane and as the Guyanese soldiers marched back to the aircraft.

The family said their goodbyes and boarded the plane. As the Boeing 757 began moving, the US Army personnel gave it and Dr. Jagan one final salute and left the field.

It was indeed a very emotional day and tears flowed even from U.S. personnel moved by the ceremony. As the GAC jet rose into the cloudless, blue sky, I said a silent and final goodbye to the man who has inspired not only myself but my entire nation.