Terry McLaughlin: Never to be forgotten
September 11 is a date on which most of us memorialize the horrendous loss of life that occurred when our country was attacked by Islamist terrorists, crumbling the Twin Towers in New York and destroying large portions of the Pentagon in Washington DC.
But Sept. 11 also marks another dark moment in history which is very personal to the residents of Nevada County. On Sept. 11, 2012 Grass Valley’s native son, Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans, were killed when the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by members of Ansar al-Sharia.
Stevens was born in Grass Valley on April 18, 1960 to Jan Stevens, a California assistant attorney general, and Mary Stevens, an accomplished cellist who performed with the Marin Symphony Orchestra for many years. Stevens spent the summer of 1977 as an exchange student in Spain, graduating from Piedmont High School in 1978. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from UC Berkeley in 1982, and taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco for the next two years. In 1989, he graduated with a law degree from University of California, Hastings College of Law, and joined the United States Foreign Service in 1991. In various capacities, Stevens served in Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh and Libya. Returning to the states, he earned a master’s degree from the National War College in 2010.
In May 2012, Stevens arrived in Tripoli as United States Ambassador to Libya. Tragically, his life was lost four months later on September 11 when the compound was attacked by elements linked to Al Qaeda. Ambassador Stevens is buried here in Grass Valley, the city of his birth and “Chris Stevens’ Courtyard” has been dedicated in downtown Grass Valley, as a lasting tribute to our native son.
With Ambassador Stevens in the main consulate building was Sean Smith, an information management officer with the State Department. Born in 1978, Sean Smith grew up in San Diego and joined the Air Force as a young man, where he found himself stationed in Okinawa. He didn’t fly jets — he worked on radios and played online games in his free time. After joining the State Department, he became the expert IT guy in Pretoria and Baghdad, Montreal and The Hague, and then — for what was supposed to be just a few weeks — Benghazi, Libya. His widow was quoted as saying “He didn’t try to play the hero. He just tried to keep the computers running even if some of the locals were quite violently showing that they wanted the Americans out. He was just there for the mission. If no one else would volunteer and he knew he could do it, he would do it.”
On that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2012, the State Department compound in Benghazi filled with armed terrorists hunting for Americans. The building in which Sean Smith and Ambassador Stevens were sheltered was set on fire by their attackers, and they did not survive.
Leaving a wife and two children behind, Smith was posthumously awarded the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service on May 3, 2013, and his name is inscribed on the American Foreign Service Association memorial wall in Washington DC, which honors those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were friends and fellow CIA contract protective officers. They lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2012 while attempting to protect the employees of the facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Woods, a native of Oregon and a high school wrestler, joined the Navy at 18 and became a SEAL, rising to the rank of senior chief petty officer and serving several decorated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also a registered nurse and a paramedic, who his friends said had “the hands of a healer and the arms of a warrior.” He joined the CIA in the summer of 2010 and served honorably all around the world protecting CIA officers.
Glen Doherty was a highly decorated Navy SEAL, a warrior and a medical corpsman. A nine-year veteran, he served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joining the CIA in 2005, Glen deployed 14 times as a protective service officer. When the State Department’s facility in Benghazi was attacked on Sept. 11, Doherty and Woods were part of the CIA team that mobilized a rescue operation.
After a number of futile attempts to locate Ambassador Stevens in the smoke and flames, and while still under fire, the team evacuated personnel at the facility, saving the lives of thirty Americans. After treating a State Department security officer for a wound, Woods took up a defensive position, as the base was under attack by small arms and machine gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand-thrown bombs. He helped repel two concerted attacks from the terrorists. When Doherty realized that his friend was manning a defensive position on the roof, without hesitation, he went to help him. These were the kind of heroic men who ran towards danger. Doherty and Woods died side by side when a mortar round landed near their rooftop perch.
Woods was 41. Doherty was 42. In the wake of Glen’s death, his family and friends created The Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation, which provides scholarships to members of the special operations community as a means of transitioning out of the military and back to civilian life. To date they have given out over 28 scholarships, as a lasting legacy to the memory of their friend.
Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. Sean Smith. Tyrone Woods. Glen Doherty. May they all rest in peace, never to be forgotten.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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