According to the State Department Office of the Historian, five U.S. ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty by terrorists prior to the killings of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three embassy staffers on Tuesday. Here are their stories.
1. John Gordon Mein – August 28, 1968, Guatemala
Mein became the first U.S. ambassador to be assassinated while serving in office when Guatemalan terrorists ambushed his limousine after a political luncheon in Guatemala City. Following his death, it was reported that Guatemalan military officials had tried to supply Mein with guards, and one Guatemalan colonel went so far as to enact a mock ambush to make a point to Mein that he was too cavalier about his safety. According to the Washington Post, Mein was determined to show that Guatemala’s terrorists could not force Americans into armored shells, and he routinely ran errands with minimal security.
Born in Kentucky, Mein spent much of his childhood in Brazil, where his father was a Baptist missionary. He graduated from Georgetown, earned a law degree from George Washington and worked for five years at the Department of Agriculture before joining the State Department in 1941. After serving in Brazil, Italy, Norway, Indonesia and the Philippines, Mein was appointed ambassador to Guatemala under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.
2. Cleo A. Noel Jr. – March 1, 1973, Sudan
Members of Black September, a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, killed Noel after kidnapping him and nine other diplomats from a party at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sudan. The terrorists offered to exchange Noel and the other hostages for the release of 60 Palestinian guerrillas held in Jordanian prisons, as well as Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Upon learning of these demands, President Richard Nixon said, “We will do everything we can to get them released, but we will not pay blackmail.” In addition to Noel, his outgoing deputy, George C. Moore, and a Belgian diplomat were killed.
Noel was born in Oklahoma City, grew up in Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri, where he taught history for a year before joining the Navy. He did graduate work in history at Harvard after World War II and was hired by State Department personnel officer Lucille McHenry, who would become his wife. He spent time in Saudi Arabia and Sudan before he was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Sudan on Dec. 8,
3. Rodger P. Davies – August 19, 1974, Cyprus
Davies was standing in the central hall of the U.S. embassy in Cyprus when a bullet fired by a Greek Cypriote sniper from outside the building struck him in the chest. An embassy secretary, Antoinette Varnavas, was shot and killed after running to Davies’ aid, while Davies was pronounced dead upon arrival at a private clinic nearby. The shots were fired during an anti-American demonstration, which was spurred by the Greek Cypriotes’ recent defeat at the hands of Turkish forces. One of Davies’ goals was to establish a peace agreement between the two sides. Five suspects were arrested in 1977 following an extensive investigation. While homicide charges were dropped, two men were sentenced to five- and seven-year prison sentences later that year for their involvement in the demonstration.
Born in Berkeley, Calif., Davis graduated from the University of California in 1942 and entered the Foreign Service after serving in the army during World War II. Prior to being nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus in 1973, Davis had served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. He arrived at his post in Cyprus less than one month before he was killed.
4. Francis E. Meloy, Jr. – June 16, 1976, Lebanon
Meloy, his economic aide, and his Lebanese chauffeur were kidnapped and murdered in Beirut by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a faction of the PLO. The kidnapping occurred as Meloy’s vehicle was crossing the dividing line between Beirut’s Christian and Muslim sections. Twenty years later, Lebanon’s top appeals court acquitted two former Islamic guerrillas who were involved in the assassinations. Their cases fell within the scope of a 1991 amnesty law that covers crimes committed during the war.
Meloy was born in Washington, D.C., served in the Navy during World War II and later as the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. President Gerald Ford nominated Meloy as ambassador to Lebanon following the resignation of the ailing G. McMurtrie Godley in April 1976.
5. Adolph Dubs – February 14, 1979, Afghanistan
Dubs, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan after a Soviet-aligned faction came to power there in 1978, was kidnapped by four armed militants from the opposition party posing as policemen. The militants demanded the release of their imprisoned leader and took Dubs to a room on the second floor of the Kabul Hotel, where he was killed during a rescue attempt.
A Chicago native, Dubs graduated from Beloit College in 1942, served in the Navy during World War II and later studied at Georgetown, Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. He entered the Foreign Service in 1949 and was one of the first Foreign Service officers assigned to West Germany. He later worked in Liberia and Canada before learning Russian and being assigned to Moscow in 1961. Dubs soon became a specialist in Soviet affairs.