Noises overhead indicated that protesters were on the roof of the building. Some fired bullets down ventilation shafts. The rioters began beating on a metal hatch connecting the vault to the roof. Miller had men with guns stand guard under the hatch, prepared to kill anyone who broke through.
Sitting in his home in Northwest Washington, 25 years after enduring this experience, Hagerty says it is tempting to draw a line between Nov. 21 and the current conflict between militant Islam and the United States. "But jihadism -- that wasn't the issue," he added. "The Pakistanis were [mad] at us for reasons of their own." These included the Carter administration's decision to cut off aid over concerns about Pakistan's nuclear ambitions and U.S. criticism of the human rights record of its dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.
A Pakistani army helicopter hovers over the burning U.S. Embassy in Islamabad during the attack by anti-American demonstrators in 1979.
In trying to explain Nov. 21, U.S. officials have cited those issues and the atmosphere of the day. Earlier that year, Shiite clerics in Iran had overthrown a U.S.-backed dictator. On Nov. 4, Iranian revolutionaries had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and taken dozens of Americans hostage.
On Nov. 20, a Saudi Arabian religious zealot had led a takeover of the Grand Mosque at Mecca. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini immediately suggested that Americans were behind the attack on Islam's holiest place, a falsehood repeated in media reports the morning of Nov. 21.
But some experts are now seeing a closer link between the motivations of the Pakistani students and the thinking of militant Muslims determined to wage war against the United States. Washington Post Managing Editor Steve Coll writes in his 2004 book, "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," that the uprising was primarily led by the student wing of an Islamist group, Jamaat-e-Islami, that was rising in prominence and influence. When Osama bin Laden first traveled to Pakistan in 1980 or 1981, he visited Jamaat and donated money to the group, Coll writes.
'I Felt His Spirit'
About five miles away, on the other side of Islamabad, administrators at the International School knew the embassy was under siege and wondered what to do with the American children in their charge. Some students had two parents inside a burning building whose smoke was visible on the horizon.
Acting principal Rideout and other administrators canceled afternoon buses and called parents to pick up their children. By midafternoon, mainly Americans were left. Beth Rideout, the 17-year-old president of the student body, took refuge in the school's music room. A pretty girl with high cheekbones who often tied her hair back, she sat under the piano and comforted an elementary school student.
A few months earlier, she had begun dating Crowley, 20, of Long Island. He was blond and, at 6 feet 6 inches, a foot taller than she was. She found him chivalrous and cordial. He seemed a little embarrassed when she asked him to kiss her.
A young boy whom Crowley had befriended had told Rideout a secret: Crowley had asked his mother to send him his high school class ring. The Rideouts had invited him over for Thanksgiving, which was the next day. Beth wondered whether he would ask her to wear his ring.
Under the piano, she suddenly felt him near her. "I felt his spirit visit me," she recalls now.
About this time, inside the vault, public affairs officer James P. Thurber took Gauger's notebook out of her hands. He wrote something down and handed it back. When she read it, tears welled in her eyes: "3:35 Marine died." Thurber told her that very few people in the vault knew. He and other senior diplomats did not want morale to slide any lower.
About 4 p.m., the occupants of the vault heard a helicopter overhead, raising hopes that the Pakistani government would mount a rescue. Then it flew away.
An hour later, a group of protesters briefly rampaged through the International School, shattering windows. The Americans hid, some in darkened bathrooms, while Pakistani staff members and others fought off the attackers.
As evening approached, the vault's floor tiles began to buckle from the heat. A patch of carpeting smoldered. Many people were coughing as they struggled to breathe; some vomited. Hagerty and others began to hope that nightfall would quell the riot and allow an escape. It seemed their only way out.