Evacuees Find Safety on Ship

By Jules Crittenden
Boston Herald, March 15, 1997

There are some things you can always count on, even in the midst of anarchy and chaos in Albania.

Like the neatness of Mormon missionaries.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Gary Burchill, a former Bedford resident who is supply officer aboard the USS Nassau, was in charge of taking care of American evacuees from the civil strife in Albania as they arrived on his ship.

"They’ve been coming in tired, stressed and strained," Burchill said in a sattelite telephone interview with the Herald yesterday.

Marine Corps helicopters were ferrying loads of Americans from the capital of Tirana to the Nassau and other U.S. Sixth Fleet ships all day.

"The first group included about 60 or 70 Peace Corps workers. They were haggard and dirty, carrying backpacks," Burchill said. "Then there were about 50 families with children, who were very distressed and tired."

"Then they brought in 30 or 40 freshly minted Mormon missionaries," he said.

"It was the damndest thing. They were as brightly dressed and chipper as you would expect in your own neighborhood," he said. "They were wearing white shirts, ties and pressed suits, like they were walking through downtown Arlington."

The evacuees- 357 were flown to the Nassau yesterday- were given a chance to reunite with friends and family members on board the ship. They were offered clothes, toiletries and a place to sleep aboard the amphibous assault ship.

"By the time they leave, we’ve given them a hot meal and a shower," Burchill said. After five or six hours’ time to regroup, he said, the evacuees were flown by helicopter to Italy.