March 16, 2019
He started with Lea Kovensky, cradling the secretary’s limp body in his arms, her face spattered with blood.
By the time then-U.S. Marine Corps Lt. B.G. Willison was finished, he had rescued three others from the debris of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.
On the afternoon of March 17, 1992, Israel’s embassy in Argentina was reduced to rubble by a powerful explosion that also destroyed a church and a nearby school. The blast killed 29 people – four Israelis and 25 Argentinians – and injured nearly 250.
A group tied to Hezbollah, a proxy for Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Two years later, Hezbollah struck Argentina’s Jewish community center, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), killing 85 people – the deadliest attack in Argentina’s history.
In 2017, 25 years after the attack on the embassy, Willison, now a retired U.S. Marine Corps captain, received AJC’s Moral Courage Award at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C. In his acceptance remarks, he reminded an AJC audience that an entire generation had not been born at the time of the attacks.
“Others may not remember that 29 innocent lives were taken, the embassy was completely destroyed and that almost 250 were injured,” he said. “Some may not remember that to date no one has been charged or prosecuted with this terrorist attack. I hope you will join me in being ambassadors of the memory to ensure we never forget the Israeli embassy bombing and ensure future generations know about this historical event, so we continue to work to stop terrorism.”
Grateful to Willison for saving her life, Kovensky does not want the memories of those who were not so fortunate to be lost.
“We became one 25 years ago because when we speak about the ‘terrorist attack,’ we are referring to names, histories and vivid memories -- people whose lives and futures were stolen from them,” Kovensky said. “We are talking about my dear friend Marcela, who was never able to meet her husband. We are talking about Mirta, who didn’t see her son, Pablo, graduate and form his beautiful family. Ruben, the taxi driver who was just driving past the building. Eliora, Raquel, Beatriz, Graciela, Mausi, Alexis, Father Juan Carlos from the Madre Admirable church, Miguel Angel, Eli.”
“Our challenge is to ensure that what happened in Argentina 25 years ago never happens again,” she said, “and to forge a more humane future in which everyone is vested.”
Willison has since reunited with the survivors he rescued. At a commemoration two years ago, the daughter of Jorge Cohen thanked him for rescuing her father, which made her life possible.
He’s also stayed connected to Kovensky.
“Truthfully, she’s done more for me than I could ever do for her,” he said, choking back tears. “A photo of Lea has been on my office wall for 25 years reminding me of what courage, resilience and strength looks like.”