Richard Vinroot had been in China a few hours when he and a pair of friends found themselves in a in the square with 200,000 pro-democracy protesters.
Nearby, he saw protesters attack a soldier standing atop an armored personnel carrier, beating him and setting him on fire. Then he heard shots fired over the crowd. "I realized I was in a country that was about to have a revolution," he would recall later.
Vinroot was a city council member in the country with a delegation to visit Charlotte's Sister City, Baoding. They didn't expect to witness history.
Bill Guerrant, then the city's public information director, remembered feeling the tension from the moment they arrived. Troops packed the airport. Crowds lined the road as their bus took them to the Peace Hotel a few blocks from Tiananmen Square.
Despite orders not to leave the hotel, he and Vinroot snuck out with a friend and made their way toward the crowded square. There they stayed on the periphery, close to the walls of the Forbidden City.
They heard what Guerrant would remember as a strange vibration under their feet. They turned to each other. "Tanks," they said simultaneously.
At least hundreds died that night in Tiananmen Square. The next day the Charlotte delegation rode buses past bodies and charred vehicles on their way to the Great Wall. They went on to Baoding, where TV images of the Beijing riots were muted.
Years later, Vinroot would recall it a "never-never land."
"TV portrayed (Tiananmen Square) like a minor uprising," he later recalled. "It showed pictures of soldiers helping old ladies across the street."
Another Charlotte Republican also remembered the night.
For years, former Gov. Jim Martin kept a framed photo on the wall of his offices at Carolinas HealthCare System. It was the iconic photo of the lone protester standing in the path of a Chinese tank.