Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. The attack, delivered by an explosive-laden truck driven into the lobby of the Battalion Landing Team Headquarters building, was one of the first against the United States in what would eventually be called the Global War on Terrorism.
“The death toll eventually reached 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, the highest loss of life in a single day since D-Day on Iwo Jima in 1945.” (Col T.J. Geraghty, USMC (ret), Proceedings)
On Thursday, survivors, friends and family members will gather at the Beruit Memorial on a peaceful patch of ground between Jacksonville, North Carolina and Camp Lejeune – the home of many of those killed that day – to remember. The memorial lists 273 names – the 241 killed that day, plus others who have subsequently died from their injuries (and two pilots from the unit who died in Grenada).
It is a memorial reminiscent of The Wall in Washington, D.C., protected by a Lone Marine statue who stands guard in silent tribute to his fallen comrades. Around the memorial you will see Beirut veterans and family members talking, taking pictures and embracing. A friend of mine, a survivor of the bombing, sent me some photos recently. Seemingly everyone in the pictures had his arms around his buddies’ shoulders. The Beirut veterans are a close-knit group with a shared experience that no others can fully appreciate without having been there.
On the wall of the Memorial is engraved a simple phrase: “They came in peace”, inspired by a simple, hand-written sign that was erected shortly after the bombing.
(from The Beirut Memorial Online)
The attack culminated in an eventual withdrawal from Lebanon, and sent the unintended signal that terrorism could, in fact, impact American national strategy. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women have fought since to send a different message.
But in Beirut, the Marines, Sailors and Soldiers were there as peacekeepers, at the request of the Lebanese government. Theirs was a mission of humanity, and although they were attacked by fanatics with inhuman motivations, the dignity and importance of their role cannot be diminished. They were doing what the U.S. military has done since the very beginning – they were protecting human life and representing our country with honor.
The Beirut veterans – living and dead – are our heroes of the week.