Articles & News

News on book about the Khobar Towers bombing: Through the Perilous Night

Humble hero: Newark airman survived terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia 25 years ago

Dave Weidig

Newark Advocate 25 June 2021

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. At the time, it was the worst terrorist attack against the American military since the bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983.

NEWARK – “We Shall Never Forget,” the first words in the book say.

Then, 19 names are listed from 14 states across the country, Air Force airmen killed in a devastating terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia 25 years ago, June 25, 1996.

Senior Airman (E-4) Mike Dunn, a Zanesville native who now lives in Newark, is not among them. He is, however, a prominent part of “Through The Perilous Night,” a book released Friday chronicling people and events leading up to, during and in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy.

Over 500 military personnel, mostly from the Air Force, survived the attack, including Dunn. He and 14 others agreed to be interviewed for the book, written by Paul Sherbo, who served 30 years in the Navy and retired as a captain.

Their lives were forever changed, but as Sherbo said in his foreword, “the most common trait among the people interviewed was their lack of self-pity.” In spite of everything that happened, “they have moved ahead and looked back at the trauma as something that has forged them into who they are today.”

Air Force veteran Mike Dunn of Newark, who grew up in Zanesville, is featured in a book about the terrorist bombing of a military complex in Saudia Arabia, 25 years ago. Nineteen soldiers died and nearly 500 more were injured.

Dunn’s wife of 24 years, the former Tracy Schmitt, is a John Glenn graduate, and says the attack occurred during a time in history when a lot was going on in the world, and it has often been overlooked. It, and people like her husband, should be remembered, she says.

“He is very modest and humble about the sacrifices he has made for our country and the things he has been through,” Tracy Dunn said. “He doesn’t consider himself a hero at all. He doesn’t talk about it a lot, but I see things that really make him anxious and upset due to his trauma. He has healing to do, and we are working on it.”

Zanesville High alumnus was eager to serve

Dunn joined the Air Force right out of his Zanesville High School graduation in 1991 (his dad Terry served in the Army), and spent most of his six-year career stateside as a ground radio communications specialist, or “ground rat.” However, near the end of his duty in Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, he deployed to Saudi Arabia in April of 1996. He was part of the 440th Communication Squadron assigned to King Abdul-Aziz Air Force Base in Dhahran.

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“The dad of one of my best friends, Mike Kilgore, was the Air Force recruiter in Zanesville,” Dunn said. “I became a ground radio specialist before I was out of high school. They were understaffed (in Saudi Arabia), and I took additional training and did a lot of stuff on my own.”

Air Force Senior Airman Mike Dunn of Newark, who grew up in Zanesville, is shown during his service days.

The evening of the attack, Dunn was going to take a run around the outside of the Khobar Towers complex, which included 70 buildings and served as a Coalition Forces housing base. Coalition Forces were assigned to establish and monitor Iraqi no-fly zones, in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“Every night I would go out for a run, but for some reason, I decided not to,” he said. “If I would have, I likely would not be here today. So, I went instead and got a quick workout in. Instead of taking the elevator up to my fourth floor, I went up the steps, and when I was in the stairwell, I was talking with a woman about the phone in her suite. She was part of the Communication Squadron.

“The light bulb flickered, then came back on. Then, boom! The wave hit. At the moment, I didn’t know what it was. My first thought was, it was an accident. We ended up inside her suite. When it was over, we and a couple of others evacuated to the Desert Rose dining facility. As we were going down the stairs, we were stepping on glass everywhere. There was no safety glass, so it shattered, and that’s what hurt and killed most of the people. We lost all of our windows.”

No sitting still after Khobar Towers bombing

While in evacuation, Dunn could not sit still.

“You just want to do something in a situation like that, rather than just sitting there,” he said. “You’re angry, you’re resilient. Someone just tried to kill us. I approached our captain. I was regional Point of Control for military walkie talkies, and I told him that we needed charging stations out there. Me and a team of communications people went out to the base and put them together.”

Dunn later received the Air Force Achievement Medal, for not only his work prior to the attack, but after it, allowing the operation to restore its infrastructure following the devastation. He set up a PA system to have the caskets transported back home.

To this day, he realizes how lucky he and many others were to still be alive. “They originally tried to come through the front gate, and were stopped,” Dunn said. “A lot of buildings nearby took the brunt of it, and it could have been ours. I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like there’s a lot more I could have done.”

The explosion came from a rigged tanker truck that was backed against a fence. Later, 13 members of a Pro-Iran Hizballah group, and one member of a Lebanese Hizballah, were indicted for the crime. At the time, it was the worst terrorist attack against the American military since the bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983.

Dunn returned to the United States in July of 1996, not only dealing with the after affects, but divorce from the mother of his 6-month-old daughter.

“If certain things happen, like flickering lights or if lightning flashes, I get goosebumps and get cold chills,” he said. “The other night, I scurried off the back porch when a thunderstorm flashed through. I just recently started going to the VA to help with tremors. I have ADD, and am seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist.”

Dunn has led productive life since return to U.S.

Despite all of that, Dunn has led a productive life. Upon his return, he worked in Cleveland, then went back to Zanesville to visit his daughter. While there, he ran into Tracy, whom he had dated in his younger years, and they married in 1997. He has worked for Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, where he is currently an engineer installing 5G and maintaining 4G.

He and Tracy moved to Indiana for a year, then lived 17 years on Linnville Road, and also in Pataskala and Georgia before eventually settling in Newark. They have a daughter Delaney, who lives in Delaware (Ohio), and a son Braxton, who is taking accounting at COTC. Oldest daughter Markie, 24, graduated from Maysville and Muskingum University, and recently got engaged.

“I’ve had a lot of blessings lately, more than I can count,” Dunn said.

Survivors of the bombing continue to lean on each other.

“A Facebook group of survivors has really helped,” Dunn said. “There are people on there with a lot worse experiences than mine. The majority of the people were from an Air Force base in Florida, and they put up a big memorial. On the 20th anniversary, Tracy and I went down there.”

Dunn admits that he hasn’t read the entire book. In fact, not much of it. It just brings back too many harrowing memories.

“A girl cuts her eyeball out, stuffs it full of gauze, and continues to treat patients,” he said. “I don’t need to do a lot (of the reading) already. I’m picking at it. Eventually, I’ll get through it.”

Tracy says that through it all, her husband remains the person he’s always been.

“Mike is the best person I know,” she said. “He always puts his family above all else. He would give the shirt off his back if it meant making somebody else happy. I feel blessed that he is my husband.

“Mike is not only a hero for our country. He is my hero, every day!”

‘Through The Perilous Night’ available on Amazon

“Through The Perilous Night” can be purchased through Amazon, or directly from the publisher at Visit the author’s website at

News and petition regarding Unsinkable Sailors

The link below is to a short video with film footage and photographs of the USS Frank E. Evans at the time of the collision.  This is neither an endorsement nor a critique of the video, but anyone interested in the collision may find it interesting.  Note the footage of a bow going down – it appears to have been shot in daylight, and since the Evans’ bow sank before 3:30 a.m., we’re unsure what that footage is.   Note, you will be routed to a different web page. 

Click here for Video

Media Coverage for Unsinkable Sailors

Memorial Day: What it means for the men close to USS Frank E. Evans

  • Penn Live Patriot News
  • Published: May. 24, 2013, 2:05 p.m.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Recognize those words? Paul Sherbo can recite them by heart.

They’re the words that come to mind on days like Memorial Day, the words he remembers when he thinks about why soldiers and members of the armed forces do what they do.

“If you look at the oath that you take when you’re commissioned, it doesn’t talk about defending lives or territory, which puzzled me when I first took it,” he said. “It talks about defending the Constitution.”

Sherbo, a retired Navy captain who served in Iraq, wrote “Unsinkable Sailors: The fall and rise of the last crew of USS Frank E. Evans.” It’s the story of 74 lives lost at sea in the thick of the Vietnam War – five of those lives lost were men from Pennsylvania.

The USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association is active today in working to have the names of those 74 men inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Ed Holsopple, who served on the Evans from 1964 to 1967, said Memorial Day is a reminder that those lost lives will remain decorated and revered forever.

“Memorial Day, for us, it means remembrance,” Holsopple, a former gunfire control technician, said. “Lest we forget, and we haven’t forgotten those 74.”

No, those lives haven’t been forgotten. And the reason they gave their lives hasn’t either.

It was a Veteran’s Day after Sept. 11, 2001. Sherbo, of Lakewood, Colo., was attending an event and several children were playing, laughing and carrying on in the background.

A reporter approached Sherbo and asked, “Doesn’t it bother you? Do you think those kids should be a little more solemn?”

The member of the Navy paused and remembered the oath he took – he had promised to protect the Constitution.

“Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” he thinks.

“No,” he told the reporter. “Why did we do this? So the kids can run around in the park and laugh. That’s why.”

This Memorial Day, Sherbo, Holsopple and the Frank E. Evans (DD 754) Association will remember those 74 men. And they’ll remember why they, and so many others, risked paying the ultimate price.

Petition to the Secretary of the Navy to add the lost 74 crewmembers from the USS Frank E. Evans DD754 to the Vietnam Memorial Wall (Click to Download Petition)

Author’s Notes

It has been very gratifying to hear from so many of the Frank E. Evans crew, saying that they feel the book is an accurate description of the events surrounding the collision.  The thing that concerned me most was that I would fail to convey their story accurately.  It is an important story, and one that deserved to be told.