Original image
Getty Images

The 5 Other U.S. Ambassadors Killed by Terrorists

Original image
Getty Images

According to the State Department Office of the Historian, five U.S. ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty by terrorists prior to the killings of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three embassy staffers on Tuesday. Here are their stories.

1. John Gordon Mein – August 28, 1968, Guatemala

Mein became the first U.S. ambassador to be assassinated while serving in office when Guatemalan terrorists ambushed his limousine after a political luncheon in Guatemala City. Following his death, it was reported that Guatemalan military officials had tried to supply Mein with guards, and one Guatemalan colonel went so far as to enact a mock ambush to make a point to Mein that he was too cavalier about his safety. According to the Washington Post, Mein was determined to show that Guatemala’s terrorists could not force Americans into armored shells, and he routinely ran errands with minimal security.

Born in Kentucky, Mein spent much of his childhood in Brazil, where his father was a Baptist missionary. He graduated from Georgetown, earned a law degree from George Washington and worked for five years at the Department of Agriculture before joining the State Department in 1941. After serving in Brazil, Italy, Norway, Indonesia and the Philippines, Mein was appointed ambassador to Guatemala under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

2. Cleo A. Noel Jr. – March 1, 1973, Sudan

Members of Black September, a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, killed Noel after kidnapping him and nine other diplomats from a party at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Sudan. The terrorists offered to exchange Noel and the other hostages for the release of 60 Palestinian guerrillas held in Jordanian prisons, as well as Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Upon learning of these demands, President Richard Nixon said, “We will do everything we can to get them released, but we will not pay blackmail.” In addition to Noel, his outgoing deputy, George C. Moore, and a Belgian diplomat were killed.

Noel was born in Oklahoma City, grew up in Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri, where he taught history for a year before joining the Navy. He did graduate work in history at Harvard after World War II and was hired by State Department personnel officer Lucille McHenry, who would become his wife. He spent time in Saudi Arabia and Sudan before he was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Sudan on Dec. 8, 1973 1972.

3. Rodger P. Davies – August 19, 1974, Cyprus

Davies was standing in the central hall of the U.S. embassy in Cyprus when a bullet fired by a Greek Cypriote sniper from outside the building struck him in the chest. An embassy secretary, Antoinette Varnavas, was shot and killed after running to Davies’ aid, while Davies was pronounced dead upon arrival at a private clinic nearby. The shots were fired during an anti-American demonstration, which was spurred by the Greek Cypriotes’ recent defeat at the hands of Turkish forces. One of Davies’ goals was to establish a peace agreement between the two sides. Five suspects were arrested in 1977 following an extensive investigation. While homicide charges were dropped, two men were sentenced to five- and seven-year prison sentences later that year for their involvement in the demonstration.

Born in Berkeley, Calif., Davis graduated from the University of California in 1942 and entered the Foreign Service after serving in the army during World War II. Prior to being nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus in 1973, Davis had served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. He arrived at his post in Cyprus less than one month before he was killed.

4. Francis E. Meloy, Jr. – June 16, 1976, Lebanon

Meloy, his economic aide, and his Lebanese chauffeur were kidnapped and murdered in Beirut by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a faction of the PLO. The kidnapping occurred as Meloy’s vehicle was crossing the dividing line between Beirut’s Christian and Muslim sections. Twenty years later, Lebanon’s top appeals court acquitted two former Islamic guerrillas who were involved in the assassinations. Their cases fell within the scope of a 1991 amnesty law that covers crimes committed during the war.

Meloy was born in Washington, D.C., served in the Navy during World War II and later as the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. President Gerald Ford nominated Meloy as ambassador to Lebanon following the resignation of the ailing G. McMurtrie Godley in April 1976.

5. Adolph Dubs – February 14, 1979, Afghanistan

Dubs, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan after a Soviet-aligned faction came to power there in 1978, was kidnapped by four armed militants from the opposition party posing as policemen. The militants demanded the release of their imprisoned leader and took Dubs to a room on the second floor of the Kabul Hotel, where he was killed during a rescue attempt.

A Chicago native, Dubs graduated from Beloit College in 1942, served in the Navy during World War II and later studied at Georgetown, Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. He entered the Foreign Service in 1949 and was one of the first Foreign Service officers assigned to West Germany. He later worked in Liberia and Canada before learning Russian and being assigned to Moscow in 1961. Dubs soon became a specialist in Soviet affairs.

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios