THE BOOK OF HONOR -- INDESTRUCTIBLE
SUNDAY EVENING, Apri1 17, 1983, had been a festive time for CIA employees stationed in Beirut. Thirty-nine-year-old James Lewis, a veteran covert operative, and his Vietnamese-born wife, Monique, had invited Agency colleagues to their apartment for a dinner as only Lewis could prepare. A gourmet chef he had spent hours fixing the meal -- nothing but the freshest ingredients, the best spices, the perfect wine. The Agency's top Middle East specialist, Robert C. Ames, was in town on temporary duty, and there was a sense that what was happening here made this shattered capital city, once likened to Paris, some sort of epicenter -- a place of deadly intrigue, espionage, and ancient rivalries. In short, Jim Lewis's kind of place. Monique, too, had special reason to celebrate this evening. The next day was to be her first on the job, working as a CIA secretary in the embassy. It was spring, a time of hope even in Beirut, and a time for Jim Lewis to put his culinary skills to the test on behalf of friends old and new.
Across town somewhere, other preparations, no less elaborate, were under way. Two thousand pounds of high explosives were being readied. The target: the U.S. Embassy, Beirut. For the driver of the truck that would carry the massive bomb and steer it squarely into the embassy's glass and concrete facade, there were preparations of another kind to be made, for whatever promised glory might await, it would be not in this world, but in the next.
The Beirut embassy had come to be the gathering point to which many seasoned C1A operatives had made their way. Over the years, these same individuals had come to know one another and to share a common history. Like a pooling of mercury, they had been called upon to go their separate ways over the years, but inevitably would be drawn together again in places such as Beirut where the stakes were high and so, too, the rewards. What the Agency could not yet know was that Beirut was the face of its own future, a place where hostilities would have little to do with the Cold War, where the enemy belonged to no foreign embassy, wore no uniform, and would hide behind not a border of barbed wire but a smile.
The Agency operatives in Beirut each had their cover, their bogus stories, their mundane tasks that they hoped would shield them from suspicion. Jim Lewis was listed as an embassy political officer. His wife, Monique, was said to be a State Department secretary. Kenneth Eugene Haas, the Agency's thirty-eight-year-old chief of station, was also listed as a political officer. Recently married, he had served in many sensitive posts -- Bangladesh, Iran, and Oman among them. Frank J. Johnston was carried as an econ officer, as was Murray J. McCann.
Fifty-nine-year-old William Richard Sheil was said to be a civilian employee of the army. A veteran of Vietnam, he had made a name for himself as a superb interrogator, a man who relied on honey, not horror, to wrangle information from his subjects. Deborah M. Hixon, a thirty-year-old from Colorado and daughter of an airline pilot, was said to be a foreign affairs analyst with State. Phyliss Faraci, forty-four, was an "administrative assistant," under cover with the State Department.
Less than twenty-four hours after the Sunday evening dinner, all but one of them would be dead.
James Lewis bore little resemblance to the fictional James Bond, but in Lewis, 007 would have more than met his match A lanky six feet two, he had boyish good looks, a full head of dark hair parted perfectly, kind eyes, and an easy smile. He was most comfortable dicing onions in the kitchen, listening to a French chanteuse, or sipping a good Bordeaux. He might as easily have been taken for a fresh-faced teacher at a prep school as one of the Agency's premier covert operatives.
A personable fellow, he thrived on entertaining and mixed easily with diverse peoples, but even those who worked with him daily would later reflect that they knew almost nothing about him. It was not a dark reclusiveness, but a talent for appearing open and guileless, all the while giving up nothing of himself. But those who underestimated him did so at their peril -- literally. Fluent in Arabic, French, and Vietnamese, he was an expert with an M-14, a .45, a parachute, and scuba gear. He was as capable of underwater infiltration as dropping silently from the skies. His work for the Agency had taken him to every country in Southeast Asia and most of those in Europe and the Middle East.
From earliest boyhood, James Lewis had but one ambition -- to be a soldier. Not just any soldier, but a paratrooper. There was no great mystery to his attraction to the military. His father, James Forrest Pittman, had been a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. Lewis was born James Forrest Pittman, Jr., on February 29, 1944. His father was overseas fighting World War II. Little Jimmy would be nineteen months old before he would first set eyes on his father. Forrest, as his father was known, returned to his rural hometown of Coffeeville, Mississippi, and like many of his generation, was greeted as something of a local hero. His three sons and daughter would sit wide- eyed listening to his accounts of combat far beyond the confines of Yalobusha County.
But in 1952 Forrest simply walked out on the family. He was never to return again. A heavy drinker and a poor provider, he vanished. Lewis's mother, Antoinette -- Toni to her friends -- moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, and struggled to raise four young children. Much of the burden fell upon the slender shoulders of the oldest, Jimmy, then aged eight. Neither as a child nor as an adult would he permit himself to speak of his father, but the lingering pain of that loss would define the landscape of his life for many years to come. Already a sober child, Jimmy learned to hold his emotions tight within, sharing them with no one. He was as slow to show affection as he was to show pain. It was not that he did not feel both, as would later be abundantly clear, but that he would not allow himself to show any vulnerability. And so, even as a child, he became practiced in the art of deception, accustomed to living with secrets and self-containment -- liabilities in all but a spy's trade.
To his sister and two brothers, he was seen as the consummate leader, a boy who squared his shoulders and naturally assumed command in every situation. An aunt would always think of him as "indestructible." His military demeanor and self-discipline provided a way to conceal the hurt behind a facade of spit and polish, and at the same time, to obliquely express his adoration for the father who had disappeared. It was no coincidence that Jimmy and his two brothers would all become paratroopers in their father's image.
Lewis took it upon himself to watch over this cadre of three younger siblings, not as a protector or ersatz father, but as a drill sergeant, demanding obedience and seeking to toughen them up. His sister, Susan, recalls him leading the three of them out on "a combat expedition" -- that was what he called it -- into a neighboring swamp. Deep into the morass, Jim Lewis announced that the others would have to fend for themselves. He disappeared, leaving his siblings to find their own way home. Hours later when they appeared, safe but exhausted, he reviewed them with pleasure. "Oh, you made it back," he said, confident that he was whipping them into shape.
The world as he knew it was plenty tough. To win his love, one first had to pass muster. When he took his little sister and brothers to the movies, he insisted they walk "ten paces" behind him. It was simply a privilege of rank.
Though a mediocre student, he had a voracious interest in geography and military affairs and was said to have read The World Book Encyclopedia nearly cover-to-cover. Other times he buried himself in comic books featuring square-jawed soldier heroes invulnerable to fear or pain. His favorite hangout was the local army surplus store with its camouflage gear, its footlockers, machetes, vests, and other accoutrements of war -- all of his father's vintage.
As a child he was not a troublemaker, though at times he would do something that would unsettle his mother and reveal something of the turmoil within. At age twelve he ran away to New Orleans, but, ever dutiful, he left a note for his mother, who notified the police. A day later he was returned to the house. Another time he and his sister pilfered three dollars from a collection box at a local church. His mother found out and had them return the money to the preacher along with an apology. In 1959 his mother married George Lewis. He promptly adopted fifteen-year-old James, who changed his name to James Foley Lewis, the Foley being his mother's maiden name. Enraged that the family was moving to Phoenix, he took a stick and shattered the glass in the French doors of the dining room -- perhaps the only such outburst he ever allowed himself to have. But after the move, by all accounts, he settled down and seemed to flourish.
By high school, Jimmy stood six feet two, a rangy kid intent upon putting muscle on his lanky frame. Often he could be found pumping iron in the garage until his face flushed with exhaustion. In a vain attempt to bulk up, he devoured a high-calorie concoction that resembled a pasty mix of flour and water. If others saw him as indestructible, that was how he had come to view himself as well. He once told his brother Tom, "The day I start to get weaker is the day I want to die."
Tough as Lewis was, he was never a brawler, though on one occasion as a teenager he was seen going out with a businesslike look on his face and a six-foot length of steel chain wrapped menacingly around his narrow waist. In high school he was an active member of ROTC. To school he wore only button-down shirts in gray and white, a self-styled uniform, which his sister ironed each morning in exchange for a ride for her boyfriend. The essence of gung ho, he scrupulously followed events in Vietnam, tracking each development on a map of the country that hung in his bedroom.
A leap-year baby, Jim Lewis enlisted in the army on his eighteenth birthday, February 28, 1962. Lewis had his eye on wearing the Green Beret of Special Forces. He instantly distinguished himself first in training, then in combat. His quiet manner, boyish good looks, and unflappable courage led some to compare him to World War II Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy.
By early 1967 Lewis was in command of an elite unit of Vietnamese tribal Montagnards, known as Mike Force. Their mission was to stave off impending disaster, to defend or relieve Special Forces when they found themselves under siege or about to be overrun. "Indefatigable" was how one of his commanding officers would later describe Lewis. "His enthusiasm, aggressiveness, cheerfulness, and energy were not only hallmarks of his personality but they were so contagious that the simple, uneducated, and very suspicious native tribesmen in his unit were infected with the same qualities ... The empathy and compassion which Captain Lewis felt for the Vietnamese people was genuine and sincere. They recognized this rare quality in him and responded to him when no other 'outsider' could make any headway in dealing with them. He comes very close to possessing that unique ability to be all things to all men."
Time and again Lewis proved himself in the field. On April 3, 1967, as a second lieutenant in the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), he was wounded. For this he would receive the Purple Heart. Just seven days later he was back on a mission deep within hostile North Vietnamese territory. As the head of a Special Forces reconnaissance platoon he and his men were moving through a dense jungle when they came under intense automatic-weapons fire from three sides. Instead of retreating or hunkering down, he led his men on an attack of Viet Cong positions and drove them back. "His fearless leadership contributed greatly to the defeat of the hostile forces and prevented serious casualties to his men," read his citation for the first of an extraordinary four Bronze Stars he would receive. Add to these an Air Medal, a Gallantry Cross, and innumerable other medals, ribbons, and commendations.
A notebook he carried, though somewhat encoded, reveals something of his life in the field. On one page he wrote:
Elsewhere in the notebook are references to tapes of music he carried with him. One tape featured an eclectic mix of Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, and Sarah Vaughan. He even jotted down some random meals. One such entry read: "Lunch = 1 duck egg ... 1 pat rice ... 5 glasses milk."
Many of James Lewis's military operations with Special Forces had been conducted under the direction of the CIA. By the spring of 1969 he had decided that he would apply to work for the Agency directly. With his background in Special Forces, his familiarity with Vietnam, his gift for languages, and his reputation for both valor and discretion, he was exactly what the Agency was looking for.
In a May 21, 1969, letter of recommendation to the Agency, one of Lewis's superiors, Colonel Eleazar Parmly IV wrote: "I can personally vouch for Lou's courage under protracted periods of intense personal danger. Aware of the impropriety of overstatements in letters of this type, I would classify Lou as fearless or, if he experiences any fear there is absolutely no manifestation of that fear in his actions, thinking, or attitudes. His presence instills calm and his tall, muscular, tiger-like physique not only furnishes physical strength in times of stress but also generates an increased sense of confidence, resolution, and strength in his men and his leaders. When everyone else is worried and jumpy, Lou can break the tension by a natural gesture or expression or a pertinent but humorous remark. He is always in the advance guard of his unit when there is danger and he never draws back from the defensive point because of the risk to his own person."
In 1970 Lewis was brought into the CIA under the Jewel Program, which sought out those with unique paramilitary skills. The Agency returned him to Southeast Asia's jungles, where he was made all too familiar with desperate situations, particularly in Laos. There his code name was Sword. On January 26, 1972, James "Sword" Lewis wrote: "I have been at Long Tieng since before Christmas. I took 2500 people from Savannakhet up there to help out. I now have 1500 left. Things are pretty bad, nobody can or will help us now. Every soldier in Laos is committed and we are still being pushed back. Long Tieng will be our Dien Bien Phu. We will make it or break it there. I can't complain about my guys ... but I just don't know how much longer we can hold. The Viet Minh have 130 mm artillery and tanks, we have rifles. The Air Force can't knock out the enemy artillery All those fine weapons systems the U.S. has spent millions on are about 95% ineffective, the ultimate weapon is still the infantryman."
By the end of 1974 even the most stalwart supporters of the war in Vietnam had come to recognize that loss was inevitable. The United States had put its military and political prestige on the line, and the CIA, in support of that policy -- sometimes reluctantly -- had committed untold resources to help hold the line against Communism in the region. To those Agency operatives in the front line, neither the drawing-down of the U.S. military nor the proximity of an end to the conflict brought any relief.
On the contrary, as the mission became more desperate, the demands upon them increased. One of the final missions of the CIA was to assist in waging a delaying action. The final mission was to monitor the inexorable advance of North Vietnamese troops, if for no other reason than to provide U.S. planners with a timetable for the evacuation of those South Vietnamese who had been intelligence or military assets and who would otherwise be imprisoned or executed by the North Vietnamese. In those final frantic months it was the unenviable task of men like James Lewis to chronicle defeat.
In the spring of 1975 James Lewis was acting as an adviser and observer attached to a Vietnamese general named Nghi. Lewis was said to be in the command bunker of an air base that was overrun. The army, beating a chaotic retreat before advancing North Vietnamese troops, was in disarray. Lewis and others attempted to escape by night.
Near a place called Phan Rang, some 160 miles northeast of Saigon, a B-40 rocket landed near Lewis. He found himself in a ditch beside the road, trying to stanch the flow of blood from his wounds. It was there that Lewis fell into enemy hands and was taken prisoner. The date was April 11, 1975. He would eventually be taken to the notorious Sontay prison, twenty-five miles northwest of Hanoi. Five years earlier, on November 21, 1970, that prison had gained a kind of fame when American Special Forces staged a daring raid on the camp in an effort to rescue American POWs said to be held there.
Instead, the elite commando unit found the camp deserted, and though they returned unharmed and were later decorated, the raid was emblematic of a war in which even the utmost of valor often could not produce results.
Sontay prison was a remnant of old French colonial days. The buildings were of concrete and red tile in a U-shape. Around the camp was a high wall and on top of that ran a perimeter of wire. Even without the wall and wire there was little hope of escape and nowhere to escape to. For several months Lewis appeared to be the only prisoner in the camp. When a group of missionaries and an AID worker were la1:er imprisoned there, they were forbidden from speaking to Lewis. To them he was merely a shadowy figure whom they would occasionally see shuffling across the compound's courtyard under the watchful eye of a guard.
For months, thirty-one-year-old Lewis languished in a cell at the largely abandoned prison camp, its earlier American inmates having long since been released. His few possessions included a mirror and a comb.
Lewis tried to convince his captors that he was a civilian employee of the embassy, a State Department consular officer. But his captors were not taken in by his cover story. Agency comrades of Lewis suggest that the State Department inadvertently did something or said something following his capture that further compromised his cover.
For this he would pay a dear price. At Sontay Lewis endured relentless interrogation and torture. For months he was made to live in solitary confinement in a tiny concrete cell. Above him, night and day, burned an agonizingly bright light. Overhead was a loudspeaker blaring Vietnamese music twenty-four hours a day. Sleep was all but impossible. He was given nothing but a small bowl of rice and a smattering of unrecognizable greens -- no meat, fish, or other protein. Already lean, he sloughed off thirty-plus pounds. Nor did his captors ever treat the wounds he suffered from the rocket attack. These he was left to minister by himself, relying on the medical training he had received as a Green Beret. After several months' isolation, dysentery, and sleeplessness, Jim Lewis had been pushed beyond the point that even he could tolerate.
There is some dispute within the ranks of the Agency as to whether he was ever technically "broken" by his tormentors, but this is largely a matter of semantics. The simple fact is that Jim Lewis, the toughest of the tough, finally talked. The consummate soldier, he later came to regard his capitulation as an act of betrayal and weakness for which he would long reproach himself.
Back in the United States his mother, Toni, was receiving sporadic reports from the CIA indicating that her son had been taken prisoner, but as the months dragged on, and the information they provided became more and more scant, she began to get angry, fearing that the Agency had written off her son as the final casualty of the war. There were many in government then who were only too eager to blot out all memory of so ignominious a defeat.
Again and again the Agency urged Toni Lewis not to speak to anyone about her son's situation, suggesting that it might imperil him. Toni Lewis was by turns first trusting, then suspicious, then resentful. She began to wonder whether the Agency's constant request for silence reflected its concern for her son's well-being or for its own tarnished image.
Finally, in the late fall of 1975 Jim Lewis's situation improved markedly. His bowl suddenly held more food. The grueling interrogations ceased. His captors even fitted him out with a new shirt and heavy blue work pants. He was given a new pair of shoes. A trained intelligence officer, Lewis must have sensed that his release was imminent, that he was being fattened up so that it would appear that he had been treated in accordance with the strictures of the Geneva Convention. But before he was released, he and the other prisoners were taken to a museum in Hanoi replete with displays documenting what was said to be the inhumane war waged by the imperialist United States against the country of Vietnam. On October 30, 1975, Jim Lewis found himself on a C-47 cargo plane headed for Vientiane, the Laotian capital. Then it was on to Bangkok and finally California.
For several days Jim Lewis convalesced in a hospital bed. Though he was somewhat emaciated, he appeared to be in good spirits, the same tough and indestructible James Lewis that he had always been. But his family could sense that he had been changed by the experience. Try though he might to keep his emotions in, they were now nearer to the surface, and the months alone in solitary had, for the first time, given him a chance to reflect on his own mortality.
For many years Lewis's sister, Susan, had been working to reestablish ties with their father, Forrest, and one by one, Lewis's brothers and sister had come around to a kind of reconciliation with him. But not Jim Lewis. Not once in all the years since childhood would he permit himself to speak of him. Each time that Susan gingerly broached the subject or suggested that perhaps it was time for Jim, too, to make his peace and reconnect, Lewis had dismissed it out of hand.
But on November 19, 1975, only days after his release from Sontay prison, Lewis, who was then staying with his sister, asked about his father for the first time. "Susan," he said, "I want to get in touch with Forrest."
Susan told him she had an address for him. Lewis asked her to go to the store and buy some white typing paper. When she returned, he went upstairs to the guest room, fed a sheet of paper into an old manual typewriter, and began to write a letter to the man he had not seen or spoken to since he was eight years old. He was now thirty-one, a veteran of wars, overt and covert, and as battle- hardened as any man of his generation. For three hours he composed the letter. When it was done, he came downstairs and hesitatingly asked Susan to read it and make sure it was all right. It was so unlike Jim Lewis to seek the counsel of his younger sister.
Susan sat down to read the three-page letter but could barely get past the first two words. It began "Dear Daddy." After twenty-three years of burying the pain, Jim Lewis had become a child again.
"I guess that you will be a little surprised to receive this letter after so many years," he wrote. "I guess that you know that I just got out of prison in North Vietnam a few days ago. While I was there I had a lot of time to think about things. I realized that there were a lot of things I had neglected to do over the years that I really wanted to do, but for some reason ... I had left these things undone. I resolved that if I ever got out, there were several things that I would do immediately. The first and most important was to write this letter.
"It's hard to explain why I waited so long. The reason is not because I was bitter about you leaving us so long ago. I really believed that it was for the better for both you and Momma. Although I didn't understand it when you left, and it took several more years before I did understand, I really believe that you and Momma were not right for each other and as a result of the separation both of you have found happier lives than if you had remained together. As for me, I guess that I missed the things that most children get from a father who is always there to take care of them, but in the long run I think that growing up on my own gave me something that would serve me much better in my adult life.
"Growing up on my own taught me independence and to take care of myself and not to depend upon others. Before you left home you taught me to be tough, you made me learn to shoot your shotgun even when I had to stand up against an old pine tree to keep it from knocking me down each time I fired it. You taught me not to be afraid of anything by making me ride the wildest horse we had until I overcame my fear. I learned not to be afraid of hard work in the cotton fields behind our house in Coffeeville. All these things have served me well since I left home when I was 17 and joined the Army. Most of the past thirteen years of my life have been spent fighting in Indochina, and those traits I got from you got me through a lot of hard times over there.
"I guess that the reason I never got in touch with you was because I was just so engrossed in what I was doing over there that I lost almost all contact with my family. I've been very poor in keeping in touch with Momma, Susan and everyone else. I can't explain very well why I haven't contacted you, but I can assure you it wasn't because of any bitterness on my part."
Lewis spoke of his sister's recent "reunion" with her father in Coffeeville and of how much he, too, yearned to return and have a reunion of his own. "I'd really like to go back there and see you and all the rest of the family. Susan and I have been talking about going to Coffeeville this summer if it's all right with the rest of the family and you. I hope that we could all have sort of a reunion there this summer. It may seem strange, but I always think of Coffeeville when I think of home. I was only there for a short while, but I think of it as my hometown."
At the time, Lewis was engaged to a twenty-one-year-old Vietnamese woman named Hang. "I want her to meet you," he wrote.
He spoke sympathetically of the accident his father had recently suffered. He had been working on a shrimp boat out of Galveston, Texas, and a thick rope had become wrapped around his ankle as the boat pulled out, mangling his leg. A short time later it had to be surgically amputated from the knee down, and he was fitted with a prosthesis. Jim Lewis wrote that he was glad to hear that his father was now doing better.
"You can write to me at Susan's address. I will be here long enough to receive a letter from you, and as soon as I get to Washington I will write and send you my address ... I'll be waiting to hear from you, and plan to stay in close contact with you in the future." The letter closed simply, "Love, Jimmy." It had taken a lifetime to utter those words.
But unbeknownst to Jim Lewis, his letter would be lost in the mail. His father recovered from the physical injuries of the boating accident, but not from the emotional scar of losing his leg. Always a man doubtful of his own self-worth, Forrest Pittman sank deeper and deeper into drink and self- pity. He considered himself to be useless. He lamented the breakup of his family, and the decades of silence between him and his eldest son, James, weighed upon him. On August 21, 1977, Forrest Pittman drove to his favorite place, the boat landing on Enid Lake. There he took his own life with a .22-caliber pistol shot to the head. He left no note. He was sixty years old.
Jim Lewis was never to receive a reply to his letter, or to see his father again. The courage it had taken him to break his long silence had been for naught. At the burial of James Forrest Pittman in Coffeeville, his eldest son was nowhere to be found.
It was not long after the death of Forrest Pittman that a letter arrived at the home of his sister. It was Jim Lewis's "Dear Daddy" letter. Nearly two years had elapsed since it had been mailed, then suddenly, without explanation, it appeared in the mailbox. Forrest Pittman's sister Elizabeth wonders to this day how that letter might have changed the lives of both Forrest and his son James had it arrived on time. "We wished that letter had been delivered," she says. "If Forrest had gotten the letter it might have changed his thinking." It might, she believes, have persuaded him not to take his own life. And had Forrest answered the letter, as his sister Elizabeth says he surely would have, it might have given Jim Lewis the sense of peace that had so long eluded him.
Both men yearned for a reconciliation. As it was, father and son would go to the grave mistakenly believing that the other no longer cared.
Jim Lewis underwent a slow and difficult reentry into society following his release from Sontay prison. It was his nature to seek refuge in work, but the Agency understood that he would first have to come to terms with his prison experience. He returned to Washington, and, having survived interrogation as a prisoner, he submitted himself to a far friendlier but grueling debriefing at the hands of fellow CIA officers who needed to determine the extent to which his prison confessions may have compromised security. Agency colleague Larry Baldwin recalls meeting a dispirited Lewis in the halls of headquarters at Langley.
Baldwin had known him as "a man of great bravery." The Lewis he encountered now was subject to more introspection. "He felt he had failed himself and failed the Agency." But Baldwin and his Agency colleagues knew better. Many of them had been trained in the art of interrogation, learning how to prey upon a man's worst fears, to exploit his anxieties and feelings of vulnerability. They knew that no man, not even the steely James Lewis, could long withstand a concerted effort by skilled interrogators. Colleagues went to great lengths to reassure him that he had not been weak, but merely human.
The Agency provided Lewis with psychological counseling and a period to "decompress." In 1976 and 1977 it paid for him to attend George Washington University, where he got his bachelor's degree in French language and literature. When he had completed his academic course and the Agency's "rehabilitation" program, he was ready to be reassigned. But rather than simply throw him back into an international post, they sought something less stressful and more familial: Chicago.
It was an unconventional assignment and politically sensitive. In 1977 Lewis moved to Des Plaines, a suburb northwest of Chicago. At that very time, the Senate and House were conducting hearings into CIA abuses and instances of domestic spying. Now here was James Lewis, a covert CIA operative, setting up shop in America's heartland, still assigned to the Agency's Operations Directorate, East Asia Division. On his resume, years later, he would write that he spent those two years with the State Department in Washington.
In Des Plaines he married Monique, a soft-spoken Vietnamese woman whom Lewis had met in North Carolina during one of many returns to Fort Bragg. Monique, then thirty, had been educated in Switzerland and France, spoke fluent French, and had a degree in pharmacology. She was a woman of considerable beauty and intelligence but asked few questions of her husband and his work.
The only hint of what Jim Lewis was doing in Chicago comes from his sister, Susan, who found herself momentarily a player in CIA intrigue. For years she had kidded her brother that she was fully capable of doing the kind of shadowy espionage work that he did, never imagining that he would take her up on it. Then one night Jim Lewis called and asked if she wanted to play a small but key role in one such mission. "Of course," said Susan. Not long after, she was asked to fill out some government forms and to provide her brother with a photograph. To assist in the scheme, she would need some marginal clearance.
The full details of the mission were never revealed to her, but this much her brother shared with her: He had persuaded an "Arab student" in Chicago to routinely monitor and report on some activities, presumably within the Arab community or among other Arab students. In exchange for the intelligence the student provided, the Agency was paying him a $1,000 monthly retainer. Lewis had told the student that he lived in California with his girlfriend. That was the role Susan was to play. Lewis asked her to give him the name of a girl, the first one that came to mind. "Janet," she blurted out. Fine, Janet it would be.
Susan was to purchase a telephone with an unlisted number and keep it out of sight. This she did, hiding it in a desk drawer. No one was to have the number except for Jim and the student informer. When the student called, she was to answer the phone as "Janet" and say that Jim was not at home but that she would take a message and have him return the call. A few days later Lewis called to test the system. "Susan?" he said. "The phone is working."
"No," said his sister. "This is not Susan."
"Susan?" Lewis repeated with growing impatience.
"No," she repeated. "This is Janet."
A miffed Lewis had to admit his sister was even more savvy at this business than he had expected. But several months passed and not once did the caller from Chicago telephone. The phone was eventually removed and the subject was never spoken of again.
Meanwhile Lewis continued to live with his wife, Monique, in a huge Victorian house on River Street in Des Plaines. There he had dinner parties for his Washington contacts and would routinely retrieve vintage bottles of wine from his ample wine cellar. In his spare time, he played an active role in the army reserve, completing a course in psychological operations, advancing to the rank of major, and winning a Certificate of Achievement from Headquarters Company, 12th Special Forces Group, in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The certificate was in recognition of his efforts in recruiting "intelligence analysts and target area language experts for the 5th Psychological Operations Group." No matter how many years he was with the CIA, Jim Lewis would always see himself as a soldier.
In late 1979 he began to prepare himself to return to a covert post in the Mideast. First he would need to undergo rigorous Arabic-language training. After completing an intensive course at the Foreign Language Institute in suburban Virginia he was assigned to Tunis to complete his language training. But in the summer of 1982, as events in Lebanon heated up, the Agency cast about for an experienced case officer with solid nerves and a knowledge of Arabic to gather intelligence on the deteriorating situation in that country.
Already it had a reputation as a hazardous post. Five years earlier, on June 16, 1976, U.S. Ambassador Francis E. Meloy, U.S. Economic counselor Robert P. Waring, and the ambassador's bodyguard and chauffeur, Zohair Moghrabi, had been assassinated. Their bullet-riddled bodies were later found at a construction site. In September 1981 the French ambassador had been murdered. In December of that year a bomb had killed sixty-four people at the Iraqi Embassy, including the ambassador. In May 1982 twelve people were killed and twenty-seven injured at the French Embassy. It was no secret that Beirut was a place of peril. But if that was where the Agency needed Lewis, that was where he would go.
On August 13, 1982, Lewis arrived in war-ravaged Beirut. His intelligence-gathering mission was linked to the arrival seven days later of eight hundred U.S. marines, part of a multinational force to supervise the withdrawal of Palestinians from the city.
It began as a temporary assignment. Beirut was a volatile place, and spouses of Agency officers were not yet permitted to accompany them. Still Lewis was bent on setting his mother's mind at ease. Four months after arriving in Beirut he wrote: "Everything is fine here. The war (in the Beirut area) is over and I have survived as usual (not even a scratch)."
The temporary assignment became a full tour of duty, and the prohibition on spouses was lifted. Lewis and Monique found a temporary apartment in a commercial area of the city, an easy ten minutes to the embassy. Monique had not yet started working. She spent the days at home studying Arabic and preparing meals. "Just a note to let you know that we are fine here in Beirut," Lewis wrote his mother and father. "Guess that you have been seeing the worst on T.V. and have the impression that things are worse than they really are. There has been no anti-American action at all here. There are incidents taking place in the surrounding mountains and in the City itself from time to time. However, we feel safe and are at ease ... Our maid, a Tunisian girl, has arrived and as usual is really making life easy for us. Monique says that she doesn't think that she can remember how to iron a shirt anymore."
It was a few minutes after one on the afternoon of April 18, 1983, when a truck with a tarp over it was observed making its way purposefully toward the U.S. Embassy, along the Corniche, the main thoroughfare that runs along the Mediterranean in Beirut. One pedestrian would later note that it was so laden down with cargo that the tires bulged beneath the weight.
At the very time the truck came in sight of the embassy, personnel were finishing lunch in the cafeteria. Thirty-seven-year-old Richard Gannon, the State Department's regional security officer, or RSO, was at his desk reviewing security procedures. Gannon was a tall and gangly figure with gentle eyes and a coal-black mustache. Across from him sat his superior, Dave Roberts, the regional director of security who had flown in from Casablanca.
Gannon's job, making sure the embassy was secure, was an impossible task. The embassy was housed in an aging eight-story structure, originally a hotel, that was built up against the Corniche. It provided a spellbinding view and a deadly vulnerability. Gannon had been fretting about the exposure of the embassy ever since arriving in country eight months earlier.
Tensions had been running high for months. The Israelis had invaded Lebanon on June 6, 1982, and there was an uneasy standoff between their occupying forces and various Palestinian and Syrian forces. On September 15, 1982, the Israelis had entered Beirut. The next day, at the camps of Shattila and Sabra, some six hundred Palestinians, most of them women and children, had been massacred by Phalangist militia who, it was suspected, had been given the green light by the Israelis.
To many in the strife-torn country who saw Israel as merely a U.S. proxy, the ultimate blame for the invasion, the massacre, and the subsequent strife rested with America. In a part of the world where revenge is axiomatic, it was only a matter of time. Already, American David Dodge, acting president of American University Beirut, had been kidnapped.
It was the job of the CIA station in Beirut to try and make some sense of the bewildering intrigue and animosities that periodically erupted. Almost daily, CIA Station Chief Ken Haas briefed Ambassador Robert S. Dillon on what the Agency had learned. An energetic and assertive figure, Dillon would listen carefully but quietly hunger for more definitive information. Haas adopted a secretive mien even with the ambassador, perhaps because there was sometimes little of substance to pass along. The country was in fragments, and many of the traditional tools of Agency tradecraft had proved peculiarly ineffective.
The CIA in Beirut had many objectives: find out what had become of the hostage David Dodge, gather intelligence on the growing threat of Shiites, the role of Syria, Iran, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Maronites. There was trouble brewing in the Bekaa Valley, but penetrating the tight ethnic and familial units there had proved nearly impossible. The Agency had woefully few "assets" in the area. In addition, Haas and Lewis were continually getting requests from Washington to chase down Israeli intelligence reports, many of which proved to be bogus or self- serving. "Your friends are just as unreliable as your enemies," Ambassador Dillon would conclude.
For months security officer Gannon had made no secret of his concerns for the embassy's safety. On October 1, 1982, he had sent a telegram out under Ambassador Dillon's name, the subject of which was "Public Access Controls." Gannon had met with some resistance. There were concerns of cost. To the uninitiated, the embassy might have appeared well fortified. Stern-faced marine sentinels stood watch, and heavy masonry walls appeared impervious to attack. In case of trouble, inside there were steel doors with armor rings that could be closed to seal off the building, as on a ship. In the entryway concealed holes could be used to flood the area with tear gas. The windows were covered with Mylar, a plasticlike material designed to prevent the glass from becoming a hail of deadly projectiles.
But so grave was the concern for security that in February Washington had sent out a team of experts to examine the building. The embassy had asked for sweeping security improvements. The team made numerous sketches detailing what would later be made obvious -- that the embassy, for all its precautions, was virtually indefensible, pressed as it was against the Corniche without any buffer to protect it from attack.
But the team from Washington faced financial constraints. No sooner had they left when the embassy sent off a telegram to the State Department pleading its cause. "We thought we had a special case," recalls Robert Pugh, then deputy chief of mission. The essence of the cable was "we need it all and we need it now."
But by mid-April, after the Israelis had pulled back and a multi-national force had come on the scene, there was a kind of lull in the violence that raised hopes. Spring itself seemed to promise a relaxation of tensions.
All such buoyancy of spirit would soon come to an abrupt halt. As the explosives-laden truck turned into the embassy driveway and gunned the accelerator, Ambassador Dillon was in his eighth-floor office, one hand holding the phone, the other awkwardly putting on a thick red marine T-shirt in expectation of his afternoon jog. Three floors below him, virtually the entire CIA station was assembled for a staff meeting -- James Lewis, his wife, Monique, Phyliss Faraci, Frank Johnston, Bob Ames, William Sheil, and Deborah Hixon were all there.
Dick Gannon's back was to the sea, a roll-down metal shutter raised to let in the afternoon light. In Gannon's in-box was a handwritten memo, what he called a note to himself laying out the vulnerabilities of the Beirut embassy. It read in part: "Post has increasing concerns with deteriorating security situation in Beirut ... Ability of LAF [Lebanese armed forces] or local law enforce to prevent such attacks is non-existent. May only be a matter of time before U.S. is includ in list of opportune targets. With avail explosives, suffic. motive and in absence of any deterrent (effective law enforcement) U.S. interests could be target w/ minimal risk. What might we face ...1.) Car bomb/package bomb at Chancery." Like Cassandra, Dick Gannon's prophetic warnings went largely unheeded, lost in the welter of bureaucratic concerns and budgetary restraints.
At precisely 1:06 P.M. his worst fears were realized. The truck carrying the bomb drove into the building and simultaneously detonated a ton of high explosives. Cars were tossed into the air, a blinding fireball rose up, and a murderous shock wave scaled the front of the building, bringing down its midsection as if it were no more than a house of cards. Some of those in the adjacent cafeteria closest to the explosion were blown through the wall. Support pillars disintegrated. Black smoke engulfed the entire building, air conditioners were blown inside of rooms, walls collapsed, and safes flew open. Canisters of riot control gas erupted, mingling with the black smoke and dense debris, making breathing even more difficult. Flying metal cut a tree in half and heat from the blast melted nearby traffic lights. So great was the force of the blast that it was said the helicopter carrier Guadalcanal, several miles offshore, felt a shudder.
Amid a landscape of twisted metal, concrete, and broken glass, the wounded and disoriented stumbled about in utter shock.
Security officer Gannon and his boss, Roberts, were blown to the floor. Roberts, who had been facing the window, was cut by flying glass. In the next room a secretary was screaming.
On the eighth floor Ambassador Dillon had slipped the heavy T-shirt halfway over his head at the moment of the blast. The shirt absorbed the glass that was blown in and saved his face, if not his life.
But much of the worst damage occurred in the upper floors, which collapsed and pancaked one atop the next.
Within minutes the frantic search for survivors began. From the street there was a grim vision of a body literally hanging over the edge. It was that of CIA officer Frank Johnston. Pinned between slabs, he was being crushed to death. A military team reached him and pried up one of the slabs just long enough to loosen its grip and free him. Johnston lived just long enough to ask that his wallet be given to his wife, Arlette.
On the upper floor where the CIA station had been meeting -- where Monique had been enjoying her first day on the job -- there was now nothing but air and the dismal view of seven floors of concrete, steel, and glass reduced to rubble far below. Jim Lewis, Monique, Bill Sheil, Deborah Hixon, Phyliss Faraci, Bob Ames, station chief Ken Haas -- all lost. Cranes carefully lifted slabs searching for survivors. From inside the wrecked building a rescuer yelled into a bullhorn, "If anybody can hear me, please call for help." He was met with utter silence.
Scenes of horror would forever etch themselves on the memories of those combing through the debris. From the cafeteria emerged a worker carrying a plastic bag containing human hands.
It would be two, even three days before their bodies would be found. The awful duty of identifying the bodies fell to Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Pugh. Among the bodies he identified were those of Jim and Monique Lewis, Bob Ames, and the other CIA officers. "They were not mangled," he remembers. "They looked very much like themselves. They had been suffocated by debris and dirt. It looked almost as if they had died in their sleep."
Of the entire CIA Beirut station only one covert officer had survived. His name was Murray J. McCann. At the time the bomb detonated he had been out of the building on a personal errand -- taking a second look at an oriental rug he was considering buying.
And, unknown to even the embassy, there was yet another covert CIA officer in Beirut that day. He was Alexander MacPherson, the veteran of clandestine missions who five years earlier had crawled away from the fiery North Carolina plane crash that had killed Berl King and Dennis Gabriel. MacPherson, then under deep cover, was on temporary duty in Beirut and had scrupulously avoided contact with the embassy lest it compromise his cover. Standing a mile or so from the embassy, he heard the deafening blast. Once again he had proved to be the consummate survivor.
In all, seventeen Americans and thirty-three foreign nationals had died in the embassy bombing.
While the search for survivors continued, security officer Gannon and the CIA's McCann bumped into each other amid the confusion. McCann was worried about classified documents strewn about in the rubble. He wanted to sift through the documents and try to preserve that which was needed, getting rid of the rest. But Gannon was convinced there would be no time for such a procedure.
"Burn everything!" he barked to the marines standing nearby. The soldiers gathered up armfuls of classified materials and dumped them into fifty-gallon drums, then set them on fire. Armful after armful of sensitive papers was put into the flames, while an officer stirred it with a stick, making sure that nothing survived the blaze.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the State Department was besieged by reporters asking for the identities and biographies of those killed in the attack. Without time to coordinate stories with the CIA, State released thumbnail sketches of the victims based upon the cover stories provided. Reporters were told, for instance, that CIA operative William Sheil was a civilian employee of the army, but there had been no time to give the army a heads-up. "Sheil?" said an army spokesman. "We have no William Sheil."
There would be many attempts to remember the dead. Five days after the bombing, President Ronald Reagan boarded a helicopter for the flight to Andrews Air Force Base to meet the arrival of a cargo plane bearing the bodies of sixteen Americans killed in the bombing. Seven of the coffins held CIA officers. Among them were the bodies of James and Monique Lewis. It was a cold rain that fell that late afternoon as the Lewis family huddled together inside the hangar, their eyes on the flag-draped coffins.
An angry Ronald Reagan spoke of the loss and declared: "Let us here in their presence serve notice to the cowardly, skulking barbarians in the world that they will not have their way." But such resolve was of little use without the underlying intelligence needed to bring the guilty to justice. Even as he spoke, Lebanese authorities were rounding up anyone who might be a suspect. Even some who were bodyguards to the U.S. ambassador were swept up in the net and beaten by their interrogators. But ultimately the call for accountability would go unanswered. Reagan would later speak of that afternoon's trip to Andrews Air Force Base as "one of the saddest journeys of my presidency." The nation, too, watched on television in an extraordinary outpouring of public grief.
Six days later, on April 29, the CIA conducted its own ceremony for the victims of the bombing. This one was held in the Agency's auditorium and was closed to the public. Such losses were viewed as intensely familial. It began with a playing of the national anthem and a scriptural reading from Romans 14. "None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible for the Lord and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord's ... Let us then make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another." Then William J. Casey, Director Central Intelligence, spoke of the heroism of those who had died. He cited the lines written at Thermopylae, where in 480 B.C. the Greeks, though ultimately defeated, heroically resisted the Persians. "Go, passerby, and to Sparta tell that we in faithful service fell."
A year later, in his private office on the Agency's seventh floor:, Casey would present to Lewis's mother, Toni, posthumous medals for her son's valor. The citation for the Certificate of Distinction for Courageous Performance reads: "In recognition of his superior performance with the Central Intelligence Agency from August 13, 1982, to 18 April 1983. During this period of civil anarchy and turmoil at an overseas location, he demonstrated exceptional devotion to duty under conditions of grave personal risk. His professionalism was a constant source of strength and encouragement to his colleagues and upholds the finest traditions of the Operations Directorate. Mr. Lewis' flawless efforts, commitment to excellence and unstinting courageous service reflect credit on himself, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal service."
Even in a posthumous commendation to the mother of a fallen covert officer, the Agency would not put in writing the country of service.
But it was the letters of condolence from Jim Lewis's colleagues within the covert ranks that moved Toni Lewis most deeply. "I -- and many others -- regard Jim as one of the true latter-day American Heroes," one colleague wrote. "Unfortunately, the world may never become fully aware of the depth of his experience and service and sense of duty. 1 hope that you can take comfort in knowing that there are many who not only know of Jim's gallant history, but who will also remember him as a model for our own lives." Another covert officer wrote: "Your son was a friend and colleague for the past twenty years ... Our sorrow, frustration, and anger over his loss in Beirut cannot be expressed to you in a way that will soften the blow or dull the pain ... All of us have learned to create, a reserved place in our hearts for memories of men like Jim -- to be brought occasionally to the forefront of our thoughts, carefully burnished, and recalled with a mixture of sadness and pride. Remembering Jim's efforts to make a difference in this world will help us continue."
The Agency lost more staff operatives in the Beirut bombing than at any time since the Vietnam conflict. Many of those individuals were among the most skilled the Agency had. Casey would later call Bob Ames, the CIA's senior Middle East expert, who was killed in the blast, "the closest thing to the irreplaceable man." Casey said he had "the keenest insights into the Arab mind of any individual in government." Ames had been something of an idealist. He had believed that "things need not always end in disaster."
But the loss in Beirut could not be measured in lives alone. Its psychological impact would be felt for years to come. Just as James Lewis, the "indestructible" one, had been killed, so, too, the Agency would find itself faced with a new and profound sense of vulnerability. It was a feeling shared by the entire foreign service.
Before Beirut there was a feeling that, in the words of diplomat Robert Pugh, "embassies were sacrosanct, that they were safe ground." True, other American embassies had been targeted in the past -- Teheran and Saigon among them -- but the sheer magnitude of the Beirut assault was stunning.
After that day in Apri11983, the term "diplomatic immunity" had a different, almost anachronistic ring. The violence of the world would no longer stop at the embassy door or respect the lives of those engaged in representing nations. After Beirut, embassies worldwide underwent renewed security exams and hardening against attack. But no amount of protection could fend off a terrorist willing to sacrifice his own life to take the lives of others. It was often observed that the United States had to be vigilant all the time, but the terrorist only had to get lucky once.
The old world and the rules by which it lived were dissolving quickly, but in the Oval Office and at Langley -- as well as in the Kremlin -- the old guard was having its final days. In Washington two aging Cold Warriors called the shots. President Reagan, who had spoken of the Kremlin as "the evil empire," was determined not to allow Soviet influence to expand even by a single inch. William Casey, a shrewd and combative former OSS veteran, now Director Central Intelligence, was committed to restoring pride to the Agency and reenergizing the clandestine service. With Reagan's unflagging support, Casey's CIA was the beneficiary of a multibillion-dollar buildup. Thousands of new officers were brought into the Agency, so many that future DCI Robert Michael Gates would say they were "stacking people like cordwood in the corridors."
Under Reagan's watch, Casey launched ambitious new covert operations and engaged the Agency in numerous superpower proxy wars. Support was given to the Contras in their effort to topple the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Military aid, including Stinger missiles, was provided Afghan guerrilla fighters seeking to expel a Soviet aggressor. At Langley the Cold War showed little evidence of winding down. Even after so many years of scrutinizing the Soviets, tensions ran high and intelligence was much less than perfect.
On September 1, 1983, the Soviets shot down a Korean commercial airliner, KAL 007, killing all 269 people, including 61 Americans. And in November 1983 the Soviets actually believed that the United States was possibly preparing a preemptive nuclear strike against them. The attack, they believed, was to come under cover of a planned NATO command post exercise known as Able Archer. The Kremlin's military was placed on heightened military alert, and it was not until many months later that Casey's CIA came to understand that the Soviets viewed such a strike as potentially imminent. "The hottest year of the last half of the Cold War -- the period when the risk of miscalculation, of each side misreading the other, and the level of tension were at their highest -- as 1983," reflected Robert Gates, then the Agency's deputy director for intelligence. He would remember 1983 as "the most dangerous year."
But even then, the specter of a new and faceless enemy, that of the terrorist, stalked the Agency. It was suggested by some that the Cold War had provided a kind of unwritten understanding between Moscow and Washington that we would not kill their case officers and they would not kill ours, as if espionage were subject to Robert's Rules of Order or some higher code of chivalry. Not so, though it is true that direct attacks on one another's case officers rarely if ever occurred. This was less the result of mutual respect or restraint than simple pragmatism. "We coexist," KGB Director Vladimir Krychkov once remarked. "They work, and we work." Once a case officer was identified by the other side, be he CIA or KGB, it was easier to monitor his or her comings and goings than to assassinate him and risk a replacement who might take months or years to identify, and who in the interim could wreak havoc. Besides, the consequences of assassinating the other side's case officers working under diplomatic cover could indeed be grave.
No such concerns applied in the post-Beirut era. The object was not to gather intelligence, but to create chaos and spill blood. Men and women of superior training and valor were as likely to be incidental victims as intended targets. Indeed, it was the very randomness of such mayhem that gave acts of terrorism their potency.
Within months of the bombing terrorists struck again. On October 23, 1983, Islamic Jihad targeted the U.S. Marines barracks. Two hundred and forty-one marines and fifty-eight French paratroopers were killed. In December a Mercedes dump truck heavy with explosives rammed the gate of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. Between 1984 and 1986 some eighteen Americans were taken hostage in Beirut. Station Chief Ken Haas was succeeded by William Buckley, winner of a Silver Star in Korea and a man whose Agency career spanned four decades. He would be kidnapped and tortured. In 1991 his remains were discovered in a plastic sack beside the road to the Beirut airport.
In time, Jim and Monique Lewis and the other CIA officers who died in the Beirut bombing would be accorded nameless stars in the Agency's Book of Honor. But nearly two decades after the bombing, the names of the dead remain classified. As in other cases, the Agency maintains that identifying its casualties, even decades later, would endanger foreign nationals who may have provided the CIA with intelligence. But the oft-invoked argument wears thinner and thinner as the years wear on and bereaved families are asked to bear their losses in continued silence.
Such secrecy takes on a life all its own. The family of Barbara Robbins understands this well. In 1965 Barbara was a fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old CIA secretary, working under cover of the State Department in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. She was at her desk when she heard a commotion outside. She rushed to the window to view the disturbance at the very moment that a Viet Cong car bomb detonated. She was impaled by the iron grating surrounding the window and died instantly.
Her father, Buford Robbins, was a quiet and patriotic man who made his living as a butcher in a Denver suburb. His daughter, he argued, had been no more than a secretary. She had no covert role to play, no agents reporting to her, no one who could be endangered if the truth of her employment were to be revealed after so many years. The burden of three decades of silence weighed upon him. He wanted only that he live long enough to see his daughter's name inscribed in the CIA's Book of Honor where only a star appeared. He died in 1998, his dream unrealized. Barbara Robbins's name does, however, appear on a bronze plaque in the State Department, where more than thirty years later her cover story is intact.
Nearly two decades after the Beirut bombing, the emotional scars for some have yet to heal. The lone survivor of the CIA Beirut station, Murray McCann, whose errand the day of the bombing saved his life, is still trying to put the horror of that day behind him.
"It's ancient history," he says, "and I just don't want to talk about it." In 1993, on the tenth anniversary of the bombing, he honored those comrades with a few brief remarks at the Wall of Honor, recognizing their sacrifices but not uttering their names aloud. Security forbade it and besides, there was no reason to. Before him sat the families of the deceased. He had done what he could to comfort them. He even told Jim Lewis's sister, Susan, that when her brother Jim's body was found, he and Monique were holding hands.
The family of James Lewis has much to remember him by. They have the medals presented by Director William Casey. Lewis's brother Donald has the stainless-steel Rolex watch Jim was wearing at the time of the blast, its crystal scratched from the impact of his fall. His mother still has a box of Lewis's personal effects that he brought with him when he was released from Sontay prison -- the simple shirt and pants, a green beret, a cracked mirror, a razor, a comb, and his field notebook. And then there are his many books -- art books on Monet and Degas, and cookbooks for French, Creole, Indian, and Chinese cuisine.
But perhaps the greatest onus of the Beirut bombing fell on two survivors of the blast, Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Pugh and embassy regional security officer Richard Gannon. Today Pugh lives in retirement in an antebellum home in Mississippi, deliberately far from Washington. He still remembers the wife who, day after day, stood at the sidewalk in front of the bombed-out Beirut embassy waiting for word of her husband, an embassy employee. Nothing was ever found of him, not even a trace.
Richard Gannon would, for years, be haunted by the tragedy and by the gnawing feeling that he could have done something more, that the disaster might have been averted or at least mitigated. "In hindsight," he says, "I should have taken a stand. I should have said, 'We either make this something secure and do these things or I want a plane ticket out of here.' I didn't do that and that was costly -- worse than costly."
Gannon alone had found himself wanting. State Department experts concluded that no security enhancement could have adequately shielded the building against a two-thousand-pound explosion in the hands of a suicide bomber. Indeed, State determined that many of the 136 U.S. embassies worldwide were similarly vulnerable.
And yet, for all the horror that Bob Pugh and Dick Gannon had endured at Beirut, each would soon have to face an even more grievous ordeal in the years ahead. As with lightning, there was no immunity to terrorism. Not even for those already struck once.