ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. — President Obama on Friday honored the four Americans killed in an attack on the US consulate in Libya, recalling their lives in deeply personal terms and declaring the United States will never pull back on its principles or ‘‘retreat from the world.’’
‘‘Their sacrifice will never be forgotten,’’ Obama said as four flag-draped cases rested near him. He had come to witness the return of those slain in the assault on the American diplomatic mission, including the US ambassador, Chris Stevens.
In the heat of a presidential election year, the scene was a gripping reminder of the daily danger facing Americans in diplomatic and military service and of the turmoil in an incendiary region of the world that continues to test the president’s leadership.
US officials are investigating whether the assault was a coordinated terrorist attack that took advantage of protests in the Arab world over a film.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s voice broke as she spoke before Obama, and she appeared to be fighting tears as she listened to him.
‘They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal. They lived it.’
‘‘They knew the danger, and they accepted it,’’ Obama said. ‘‘They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal. They lived it.’’
Americans Glen A. Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone S. Woods were also killed in a chaotic rush on the consulate.
Doherty, 42, a native of Winchester, Mass., worked as a security contractor at the US consulate in Benghazi. He was a former Navy SEAL and a decorated veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Smith, an Air Force veteran, was an information management specialist for the State Department for 10 years in posts including Brussels, Baghdad, and Pretoria.
Woods, also a former Navy SEAL who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, has guarded American diplomatic personnel in dangerous posts from Central America to the Middle East since 2010.
Said Obama of all four men: ‘‘They embodied it: the courage, the hope and yes the idealism, that fundamental belief that we can leave this world a little bit better than before. That’s who they were, and that’s who we are. If we want to truly honor their memory, that’s who we must always be.’’
The transfer of remains came three days after an attack on the consulate, one of a series of assaults on US outposts in Muslim countries that US officials blame on an anti-Muslim video made in the United States. Clinton said the rage and violence aimed at American missions was prompted by ‘‘an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.’’
‘‘This work, and the men and women who risk their lives to do it, are at the heart of what makes America great and good,’’ she said. ‘‘So we will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines, and face the future undaunted.’’
The president met privately with family members of the fallen.
Clinton and Obama both spoke of how the four men lived their lives — and how their mission would go on.
Said Obama: ‘‘The United States of America will never retreat from the world. We will never stop working for the dignity and freedom that every person deserves.’’