Embassy Attack Brings Back 13-Year-Old Memories

September 12, 2012 By Adam Ghassemi
News Channel 5

A deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens.

The images and unfolding story can be difficult to watch, but they're taking one mid-state man right back to where he was 13-years ago: inside an embassy under attack.

All it took was news that innocent people died during an accidental NATO bombing of a Chinese embassy in the former Yugoslavia. Former U.S. Senator turned U.S. Ambassador to China Jim Sasser was with his own family surrounded by thousands of angry Beijing protesters.

"We're not free to safely come and go," Sasser said during a May 1999 interview. "The Chinese police are unable at this juncture to guarantee our safety."

His son, Gray Sasser, was trapped in his parents' home with his mother and future wife as Marines guarded his father in the nearby U.S. embassy.

"There were some tense moments," Gray Sasser recalled Wednesday. "Before you knew it the students from the universities in Beijing were protesting in front of the embassy."

In just hours, the number of protesters was overwhelming. "First it was one, and then two, and then three, and then four, and then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds," Gray said.

For a handful of sleepless nights they were unsure if they'd ever be able to leave.

"There were a few moments when we thought they would come over the wall and if they did, you know, you don't know what's going to happen because you're then at the mercy of a mob," Gray went on to say.

Today Gray knows what happened in Libya is different, but also a reminder of how quickly diplomats can find themselves in danger for something they had nothing to do with. It's why he says it's important to not let outbursts of violence get in the way of building relationships abroad.

"You're the face of the country," Gray said. "The one bad example that has happened today and the one tragic example should not set the tone for our relationships with the wider world."

Former Senator Jim Sasser now lives in Washington D-C, consulting and teaching about China and U.S. relations.