Marine Master Sgt. Loyd G. Miller stood in the
of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and deployed his troops.
Outside the locked gate of the 32-acre embassy compound, bus after bus
after bus disgorged crowds of student protesters.
"Kill the American dogs," some shouted.
Miller had five Marines under his command; he
two to the embassy's roof to assess the demonstration. He watched with
growing anxiety as protesters pulled down part of the compound's outer
wall and surged inside.
He heard gunshots. He knew the members of his
security guard detachment were not authorized to fire. He ran to the
roof to see what was happening.
Cpl. Steven J. Crowley was slumped over,
from a bullet wound above his left ear. Miller helped carry the
unconscious Marine into the building. Staff members headed for the
embassy's steel-encased communications rooms, a secure area known as
It was a little after lunchtime on Nov. 21,
a day of orchestrated anti-American outrage, Pakistanis were attacking
several U.S. facilities across the country.
Twenty-five years later, this outburst seems a
slice of history, sandwiched between the taking of U.S. hostages in
Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Officially, Nov. 21 was
quickly forgotten, seen by the United States as an aberration in its
complex but generally productive relationship with Pakistan.
For many of the people who endured the embassy
and its aftermath, these events linger, called to mind each year as
Thanksgiving approaches. "I came away from that with a really deep
understanding of the hostility that other nations hold toward America,"
said Beth Rideout, who as a high school senior was Crowley's girlfriend.
Some survivors have resolved to help make the
States stronger. Others wish that Americans were wiser about the rest
of the world. In the years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that
wish has sometimes turned to despair.
"My own frustration -- great frustration -- with
America is that it continues to be so inward looking, so negligent of
the world," said Raymond L. Rideout, Beth's father. In 1979, he was
acting principal of the International School of Islamabad, which was
also attacked by anti-American demonstrators. "Americans seem not to
have a clue about how the world thinks."
to the Vault
By 1:40 p.m., nearly 140 people -- U.S. diplomats, Pakistani staff
members, a visiting Time magazine correspondent -- had assembled in the
vault, a suite of rooms on the top floor of the three-story embassy
building. Marines had covered their retreat upstairs by tossing tear
gas canisters as protesters broke their way into the embassy,
shattering windows and setting fires in offices.
As CIA officers began to destroy secret files
equipment, diplomats maintained contact with officials outside the
embassy, including Ambassador Arthur W. Hummel Jr., who had left the
building for lunch. He began demanding help from Pakistan's government.
A nurse worked to halt Crowley's bleeding until he could be
Smoke started seeping into the vault. The people
inside sat quietly, most of them on the floor, crowded into a space
intended to hold far fewer occupants. The temperature rose, and the
air, tainted by tear gas and smoke, grew hard to breathe. They took off
extra clothing and passed around wet paper towels to use as filters.
Time's Marcia Gauger, who had
by the embassy that day to have lunch with political counselor Herbert
G. Hagerty, scribbled in a notebook, wondering how she might ensure
that her record of events would survive, even if she did not. As the
afternoon wore on, she would become convinced that she would die.
Noises overhead indicated that protesters were
roof of the building. Some fired bullets down ventilation shafts. The
rioters began beating on a metal hatch connecting the vault to the
roof. Miller had men with guns stand guard under the hatch, prepared to
kill anyone who broke through.
Sitting in his home in Northwest Washington, 25
after enduring this experience, Hagerty says it is tempting to draw a
line between Nov. 21 and the current conflict between militant Islam
and the United States. "But jihadism -- that wasn't the issue," he
added. "The Pakistanis were [mad] at us for reasons of their own."
These included the Carter administration's decision to cut off aid over
concerns about Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and U.S. criticism of the
human rights record of its dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.
In trying to explain Nov. 21, U.S. officials
cited those issues and the atmosphere of the day. Earlier that year,
Shiite clerics in Iran had overthrown a U.S.-backed dictator. On Nov.
4, Iranian revolutionaries had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and
taken dozens of Americans hostage.
On Nov. 20, a Saudi Arabian religious zealot had
a takeover of the Grand Mosque at Mecca. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini immediately suggested that Americans were behind the attack on
Islam's holiest place, a falsehood repeated in media reports the
morning of Nov. 21.
But some experts are now seeing a closer link
the motivations of the Pakistani students and the thinking of militant
Muslims determined to wage war against the United States. Washington
Post Managing Editor Steve Coll writes in his 2004 book, "Ghost Wars:
The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the
Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," that the uprising was primarily
led by the student wing of an Islamist group, Jamaat-e-Islami, that was
rising in prominence and influence. When Osama bin Laden first traveled
to Pakistan in 1980 or 1981, he visited Jamaat and donated money to the
group, Coll writes.
Felt His Spirit'
About five miles away, on the other side of Islamabad,
administrators at the International School knew the embassy was under
siege and wondered what to do with the American children in their
charge. Some students had two parents inside a burning building whose
smoke was visible on the horizon.
Acting principal Rideout and other
canceled afternoon buses and called parents to pick up their children.
By midafternoon, mainly Americans were left. Beth Rideout, the
17-year-old president of the student body, took refuge in the school's
music room. A pretty girl with high cheekbones who often tied her hair
back, she sat under the piano and comforted an elementary school
A few months earlier, she had begun dating
20, of Long Island. He was blond and, at 6 feet 6 inches, a foot taller
than she was. She found him chivalrous and cordial. He seemed a little
embarrassed when she asked him to kiss her.
A young boy whom Crowley had befriended had told
Rideout a secret: Crowley had asked his mother to send him his high
school class ring. The Rideouts had invited him over for Thanksgiving,
which was the next day. Beth wondered whether he would ask her to wear
Under the piano, she suddenly felt him near her.
"I felt his spirit visit me," she recalls now.
About this time, inside the vault, public
officer James P. Thurber took Gauger's notebook out of her hands. He
wrote something down and handed it back. When she read it, tears welled
in her eyes: "3:35 Marine died." Thurber told her that very few people
in the vault knew. He and other senior diplomats did not want morale to
slide any lower.
About 4 p.m., the occupants of the vault heard a
helicopter overhead, raising hopes that the Pakistani government would
mount a rescue. Then it flew away.
An hour later, a group of protesters briefly
through the International School, shattering windows. The Americans
hid, some in darkened bathrooms, while Pakistani staff members and
others fought off the attackers.
As evening approached, the
floor tiles began to buckle from the heat. A patch of carpeting
smoldered. Many people were coughing as they struggled to breathe; some
vomited. Hagerty and others began to hope that nightfall would quell
the riot and allow an escape. It seemed their only way out.
Some who endured the attacks on the embassy and
school later concluded that the lack of a U.S. reaction made the United
States look weak. Adam Rice, who as a ninth-grader broke his wrist
fleeing protesters at the school, says the lesson of Iran and Pakistan
was that those hostile to Americans "can stick them in the eye, and
they don't do anything back."
He joined the Army after high school and served
Afghanistan in 2002 as a Special Forces reservist, contributing to a
strengthened U.S. posture in the face of attack.
Adults also emerged from Nov. 21 with a new
David C. Fields, who as the embassy's administrative counselor took
charge of the staff members in the besieged embassy, has concentrated
on security and terrorism ever since. "I often tell people that
terrorism is not new; it didn't begin with 9/11. It's been around a
of the End
By 6:30, the roof had gone quiet. Fields decided they had to get
out. The hatch was too damaged to open from the inside. The only
alternative was to send men out the door of the vault into the
third-floor hallway to reach the roof by another route.
Miller led a handful of Marines and staff
holding shotguns and pistols. The hallway was blackened by smoke and
devoid of light. Gas masks afforded them some protection from tear gas
but not from the fumes produced by the burning building.
As they stepped out of the vault, felt their way
along the hallway and climbed onto the roof, they did not know who
might be waiting. They were authorized to shoot. "It was pretty
harrowing," Miller says now. It was also the beginning of the end of
their ordeal. The demonstrators had all but left the building, although
some remained around the compound.
The flames of the burning embassy rose up from
sides of the roof, lighting the night, as Marines and others walked the
survivors of the vault to a place where they could descend by ladder to
the ground. They breathed deeply in the cool air.
After everyone was out, Miller climbed the
went back into the vault. A few minutes later he reappeared, holding
Crowley's body in a fireman's carry across his shoulders. The blood of
the dead Marine stained Miller's shirt.
Thanksgiving was somber. A search revealed the
corpse of Army Warrant Officer Bryan Ellis, 30, who died at his
apartment in the compound. Two Pakistani staff members, dead of
asphyxiation, were found in the embassy. News reports indicated that
two protesters were killed during the previous day's chaos.
Embassy officials made plans to evacuate
personnel, family members and other Americans who wished to leave the
At an Air Force boot camp in Texas, it took a
airman named David Miller a couple of days to confirm that the dead did
not include his father, Loyd. David Miller, a 1979 graduate of the
International School who now lives in Fredericksburg and is a
fire-protection consultant, remains influenced by the years he spent in
"I have a lot more sympathy for Muslim people
I lived there," he says. The unrest of Nov. 21, which he experienced at
a distance, has helped to cement a bond between him and the people he
knew in Islamabad.
"Here in the Washington area, it's a bit
there are a lot of us," he says. Miller maintains friendships, attends
reunions and participates in a Web forum for alumni of the
International School. "It's natural to seek each other out. A lot of
people don't understand what we've gone through." They are also less
interested in international affairs, in spite of the events of the past
few years, he says.
"Most Americans are unequipped to make an
about what happens in the rest of world, Miller adds. "They don't have
any information, and they don't have any inclination to get any
information. They just don't care. . . . If I care, I call up some
people I went to high school with."
On Nov. 23, Beth Rideout flew out of Pakistan on a jumbo jet with
about 400 other Americans, many never to return. She was in shock. She
could feel others looking at her, the girlfriend of the dead Marine.
She kept thinking how weird it was that Steve was flying home with
them, except that he was in the hold of the aircraft.
He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
President Jimmy Carter sat next to his mother, Georgine, at the
funeral. In an earlier phone call, he told her that Crowley died a
hero. White House officials initially credited the Pakistani government
with rescuing those in the vault, but Marcia Gauger disputed that
assertion. "It was our Marine guards who saved us," she wrote in Time.
Loyd Miller, now 63, retired from the Marine
a master gunnery sergeant in 1984. He received a medal honoring
"exceptionally meritorious conduct" for his defense of the embassy; his
detachment was also commended. Today he cares for his wife, a cancer
patient, at their home in Fredericksburg.
Rideout, a divorced mother of twins, lives in
Traverse City, Mich., and is working toward a degree in social work.
She is 42. From time to time, she has wondered what happened to
Crowley's class ring.
Georgine Crowley hadn't sent it to Pakistan by
the time Steve was killed. She gave it to one of her seven surviving
What was not to be, might never have been. Would
Rideout have worn Crowley's ring? "I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have,"
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.