Clinton quietly visits shrine to Mexicans killed by U.S. Monument still stirs anger over 9 lost in 1847 battle


MEXICO CITY -- The Atlar de la Patria is one of Mexico's most revered shrines, but it seems a curious place for an American president to pay his respects. After all, it commemorates an 1847 battle against American soldiers dispatched by an American president to seize a big chunk of Mexico.

The invading troops laid siege to Mexico City and sacked Chapultepec Castle. Among the 1,800 Mexicans killed that September day were some six teen-age cadets defending the castle, including one who wrapped himself in a Mexican flag and jumped to his death rather than be captured.

Every Mexican child learns the story of the "Ninos Heroes" -- the Boy Heroes. It still stirs bitterness against Americans.

But 100 years after the battle, President Harry S. Truman silently laid a wreath at the tomb of "Los Ninos." And, to the Clinton administration's surprise, his Mexican hosts asked him to do the same this year, the 150th anniversary.

Yesterday, Clinton complied. In a 10-minute ceremony, the president walked slowly on his crutches to the monument honoring the fallen youths where a statue depicts Mother Mexico holding one of her young heroes. Escorted by President Ernesto Zedillo, Clinton stood beside a green wreath with a small American flag in the middle, placed there for the occasion.

Clinton said nothing. An honor guard of 27 Mexican cadets fired a volley to honor their slain comrades.

Earlier, when asked at a news conference with Zedillo whether he would be going to the monument as a gesture of apology or "atonement" for the acts of the U.S. military, Clinton replied:

"I'm going there as gesture of respect. Not only respect for their lives, but respect for the patriotism and integrity of the people who have served this country.

"Other heads of state regularly go there, and I do not believe the president of the United States should decline to go because of what happened between our two countries a long time ago."

Pub Date: 5/07/97

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