Benghazi, Libya, June 1967: U.S. Mission Attacked and Burned

 

The following is from a recounting  by John Kormann, officer-in-charge at Embassy Benghazi during the 1967 attack.

“The most harrowing experience of my Foreign Service career occurred in Benghazi at the outbreak of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Convinced by propaganda broadcasts that U.S. Navy planes were attacking Cairo, Libyan mobs . . . attacked the Embassy. . . . A detachment of soldiers provided by the Libyan Government to protect us was overwhelmed. The embassy file room was full of highly classified material, which we desperately tried to burn. . . . The mob finally battered its way in. They pushed themselves in through broken windows and came at us cut and bleeding.

“We were well armed, but I gave orders that there be no shooting, so we met them with axe handles and rifle butts. Dropping [t]ear gas grenades, we fought our way up the stairs and locked ourselves in the second floor communications vault. We were able to continue burning files in 50-gallon drums on an inner courtyard balcony . . . The mobs set fire to the building. The heat, smoke and tear gas were intense, which while terrible for us, blessedly forced the mob from the building. We only had five gas masks for 10 people and shared them while we worked. . . .”

[The embassy staff was able to extinguish some of the fires after the attackers were forced out by the flames.]

“At one point the mob used a ladder to drop from an adjoining building on to our roof, catching us trying to burn files. . . They cut the ropes on the tall roof flag pole, leaving the flag itself hanging down the front of the building.”

[An Army Military Assistance captain braved rocks from below and managed to raise the flag.]

“The reaction among my people was profound. I could see it in their eyes, as they worked on with grim determination under those conditions to burn files . . .

“I took a photograph of President and Mrs. Johnson off the wall, broke it out of the frame and wrote a message on the back to the President saying . . . that we have tried our best to do our duty. Everyone signed it.”

This attack ended more happily than the attack of September, 2012 in Benghazi. After several unsuccessful attempts, British troops were finally able to reach the site and take the Americans to a British base on the outskirts of town.

2 thoughts on “Benghazi, Libya, June 1967: U.S. Mission Attacked and Burned

  1. Anthony earce

    Vivid memories indeed. I happened to be one of the British troops that finally got to your building I remember it very well especially the smoked blackened staff who still managed a smile, when we got to them.
    Happy days, for a young nineteen year old, who had not long before had his own duty room ransacked and burnt out.
    Tony
    Ex Royal Military Police
    ps
    I am still waiting for the bottle of scotch that I was promised.

    Reply
    1. Ann Gaylia O'Barr Post author

      Thanks, Tony, for adding your first hand experiences of the tragedy.
      I remember listening to an unfriendly crowd outside a U.S. consulate compound in one of the Gulf countries. Fortunately, the local government provided adequate protection.
      Sorry about that bottle of scotch!

      Reply

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