Less than a week after an angry mob of protesters attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a diplomat who survived an almost identical attack in Benghazi 45 years ago is speaking out.
John Kormann, a retired army reserve colonel, was a U.S. foreign service officer and in charge of the consulate when an angry mob wielding clubs, rocks, and weapons attacked that year.
Like last week's incident, the 1967 attack led to a domino effect of attacks on embassies around the world.
But unlike last week's strike, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, all the diplomats within the consulate survived in 1967. And while the mob last Friday was upset over an anti-Islam film that denigrated the prophet Muhammad, the mob that year was spurred on by false reports that the U.S. had helped Israel bomb Egyptian targets.
Kormann says he and nine other staff members held off a 600-strong mob for longer than ten hours. As the hours passed, "the mob got more and more unruly, larger and larger," he says. "They were trying to pull bars off the windows. They finally broke into the building with clubs and knives."
Kormann says he ordered the staffers to flee into an old bank vault in the consulate, where they hid from the mob and spent the hours inside destroying classified materials in metal drums.
But after the mob set fire to the building, Kormann says, "I thought, well, maybe this is it."
The diplomat remembers breaking the consulate's official photo of President Lyndon Johnson out of its frame and asking employees to sign their names on the photo's back, along with a message that they had tried their best to do their duty.
But Kormann didn't lose anyone that day.
More than ten hours after the siege began, a British armored rescue vehicle finally got through.
Kormann attributes the group's survival to the Brits, as well as the consulate building he was in.
"What they had [last week in Benghazi] was a glorified residence, a typical villa with a fence and no real protection, whereas our building was a bank building. I'm sure I would have lost some people if it wasn't."
"It was very painful" to watch the Libya attack unfold, he says. "It was by the grace of God we survived."
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