Nicole Edwards: “The people who killed my father were cowards”

Twenty years later, the daughter of American Sergeant Ronald Stewart remembers the day of his murder, committed by the ‘17th of November’ Greek terrorist organization

by Ellie Ismailidou 

Ms. Nicole Edwards
Exactly twenty years ago, in March 1991, seventeen-year-old Nicole Edwards, daughter of Ronald Stewart, an American Army Sergeant who was serving on the Ellinikon American army base in Greece, had just returned home to the United States after having visited her father in Athens. She was eager for her father to join her and her mother in a few weeks time, as the Ellinikon base was shutting down and the last loose ends were being tied up. Ronald Stuart never made it home. On March 12th, 1991, he was murdered by the ‘17th of November’ Greek terrorist organization with a makeshift car bomb. Twenty years later his daughter, now a mother of five children, sits down for an exclusive interview with the ‘To Vima on Sunday’ to address the unanswered questions that still torment her.

-Mrs. Edwards, How did you receive the news of your father’s murder and what was your first reaction?
“I remember that I was at school. News stories of the explosion started being broadcast on television and my mother panicked; she didn’t want me to find out by watching the news. She asked the school to direct me to her office. That’s where she told me what had happened. I remember listening to her voice without hearing what she was saying, I was looking at her, but was unable to see her. I had gone numb. It was only a few weeks before my father was scheduled to return to the USA, but I never saw him again”.

On March 12th, 1991, the Police are examining the remains
of the makeshift car bomb, with which the ‘17th of November’
Greek terrorist organization murdered American Army
Sergeant, Ronald Stewart

.
-Do you remember the last time you spoke to him?
“This memory still torments me because the last time we spoke over the phone we argued. I had just had my first child and had decided to marry my partner. My father disagreed with my decision. He thought I was too young – I was seventeen at the time – and that I was going to throw away my future education. He was furious during that conversation.

-Did you have any contact at all after the argument?
“I sent him a letter a few days later. I told him that he had a beautiful grandson who we had named after him. I slipped a picture into the envelope because he had never seen the baby. I wrote that I had been awarded a scholarship and was going to go to college to become a writer, that I had a loving husband who would support me during my studies.”

-Did he receive the letter?
“I
don’t know. He was murdered a few days later. For ten years I lived with the thought that my father died angry at me. I replayed the moments of our argument over and over in my mind, obsessively turning back time. However, in 2001 I ran into an old family friend who told me that my father had known that I had received a college scholarship! Someone had told him before he died. That was the first moment that I felt some relief from the overwhelming rage that had been torturing me all those years.”

- A few days ago you wrote a letter to the American Embassy in Athens saying that you have been struggling with the unanswered questions behind your father’s death for the past twenty years. Did
the conviction of the members of the '17th of November' terrorist organization bring some sense of justice to you and your family?
“No, nothing can free me from the feeling that my father was senselessly murdered for no reason. They used him as a means to an end, a victim who to them was just a number on their list. My father was just a sergeant, he wasnt a high ranking military officer, he wasnt responsible for making political or strategic decisions.  He had found a position on the American base in Greece so that he could be close to my mother, who was working in the military hospital. The '17th of November' issued a statement saying that his murder was connected to the participation of American forces in the Gulf War. My father had never been involved in active combat; he had never even held a weapon. The fact that some people consider a human life worth so little is just terrible and horrifying.

-How did you feel when you faced the members of the organization on trial as a witness?
“Until that day, the thought of those people used to fill me with dread, but when I faced them I felt anger wash through me. The monsters that I had imagined as having superhuman powers where just people; cowardly and weak human beings.”

-Was your anger directed solely at your father’s killers or did you have feelings of resentment for Greece and the Greek people as well?
“I admit that for many years I would be overcome with fear and rage every time I even heard the word 'Greece'. It’s easy to transform pain into prejudice against a whole people, but it’s unfair to blame all Greeks for the actions of a few criminals. I lived in Greece from the time I was eleven until I turned sixteen years old and I have many beautiful memories of your country. One day, when I’m emotionally ready, I want to visit with my children to show them the places where I grew up.”

-What are your most vivid memories from your Greek adolescence?
“I remember going out to dinner with my father and the sea in the summertime. There’s a funny story: When I was 16 years old and living in Athens, my father decided to teach me how to drive. I remember the streets as being very narrow. Everyone around me were driving like madmen and all I could do was creep along, starting and stalling constantly, because I was having trouble learning to use the clutch. I will never forget the two of us grinding uphill and rolling down the other side, screaming. Those were good times and my father’s being there made it even more special. He was a lively man with a great sense of humour; he had a vast appetite for life and fun.”

-What do you tell your children about their grandfather?
“I have five children, a 20-year-old son, a 17-year-old daughter, a 15-year-old son and two little boys, one is seven, the other three. I talk to them about their grandfather’s character and his kindness. He was a man who considered his most important role in life that of being a good father. He taught me sound principles and how to be a good parent. I can’t bring him back but it is my duty to keep his memory alive.”

Ellie Ismailidou, published March 20th, 2011, 'To Vima on Sunday' print and online edition
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