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BLEED AREA A special historical supplement to


THEY CAME IN PEACE

October 23, 1983

All gave some, some gave all

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY 2025 N. Marine Blvd Jacksonville, NC (910) 455-2358

561 Yopp Rd Jacksonville, NC (910) 346-1889


INSIDE

Commanding General, Marine Corps Installations East, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Brig. Gen. Robert Castellvi

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Public Affairs Director Nat Fahy Public Affairs Chief Gunnery Sgt. Ryan O’Hare

Historical background

Production Chief Sgt. Jennifer Poole editorial Ena Sellers Amy Binkley Chantel Green

6 Interview with Danny Joy

4 6 9 12 14

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Historical background Interview with Danny Joy

In memory of Marines killed in Beirut

interview with Robert Jordan

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20 21 The first Beirut Memorial aboard Camp Lejeune 23 Community response

Interview with Larry Gerlach

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The Peacekeepers Speak Interview with John Nash ‘Give me somebody to turn it over to’

Connecting survivors

Interview with Darrel Gibson

The Beirut Stamp Initiative

Interview with Claude Davis III

USO Honors Peacekeepers

interview with Paul Rivers

Interview with Randy Gaddo

25 27 28 29 31 32

Advertising General Manager Denise Walker Advertising Designer Becca Keller Sales Coordinator Melissa Stone Account Executives Bobby Stone Teresa Moore Emily Kelley Shannon Sanchez The Globe 1122 Henderson Dr., Jacksonville, N.C. 28540 Phone: 347-9624 fax: 347-9628 disclaimer The special Beirut edition is published by Landmark Military Newspapers of N.C., a private enterprise not connected with the DoD or the U.S. Marine Corps. The appearance of advertising in this publication does not constitute endorsement of these products or services by the DoD, the U.S. Marine Corps, or Landmark Military Newspapers of N.C. Everything advertised in this publication shall be made available for purchase, use or patronage without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation, or any other nonmerit factor of the purchaser, user, or patron. If a violation or rejection of this equal opportunity policy by an advertiser is confirmed, the publisher shall refuse to print advertising from that source until the violation is corrected. The editorial content of this publication is the responsibility of Landmark Military Newspapers of N.C. For distribution and advertising inquiries, call 347-9624.

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NIGHTMARES

have no rules N STORY BY AMY BINKLEY

ightmares have no rules. From the ridiculous to the rational, victims only find relief from their torment after shaking themselves from sleep. But what happens when the fear invading their rest is less frightening than the reality to which they wake? As the sun reported for duty in Beirut, Lebanon in the early hours of Oct. 23, 1983, the Marines, sailors and soldiers of the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, slept. There was no need to sound reveille that morning. Terror was their alarm clock. An enemy on a suicide mission waited outside the Aviation Safety Building – the fourstory, non-descript concrete structure that served as both the BLT’s headquarters and barracks. With nothing to set the vehicle apart from others regularly seen on the compound, he revved the engine of the explosive-laden truck, drove past the unsuspecting guard posts, through a chain link fence and into the lobby of the barracks, where the bomb ignited with the force of 12,000 pounds of TNT. Before the moon relieved the sun of its post that day, 241 service members – 220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers – were dead. The result was the largest loss of life for Marines in a single day since the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima Many sustained physical injuries, and most, if not all, felt the beginning of an emotional hemorrhage only those who’ve seen such devastation can understand. They did not come to fight. They came in peace.

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But, according to retired Maj. Robert T. Jordan, 24th Marine Amphibious Unit public affairs officer, “It is impossible to keep peace where no peace exists.” The presence of U.S. forces in the Lebanese capital was not unfamiliar, and their neutral, peace-keeping roles were expected. Twenty-five years earlier in 1958, when the country was on the verge of a violent civil war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered two Marine battalion landing teams to go ashore. They assisted in keeping other countries from interfering with the local government, and were told, if engaged, not to shoot back without a clear target. Although Lebanon seemed to come to a workable agreement, it could only last so long in a place where, Jordan says, peace is less desirable than war. By 1975, tensions were high again in the foreign country as it was caught in the middle of the centuries-old religious conflict between Palestine and Israel. Lebanese government officials sought help once again from a multinational force after Israel invaded, and efforts were made to establish a permanent base of operations for any future incidents where outside help was required. Marines with the 32d MAU, alongside other foreign troops, arrived in mid-August 1982. After only 31 days in the country, their mission was complete, and they headed back to sea. They were quickly asked to return little more than a week later, however, after President-elect Bashir Gemayel was assassinated and Israeli forces enacted revenge. The service members found the tumultuous city CONTINUES ON PAGE 5

521 Yopp Rd. Jacksonville

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in a state of upheaval and learned of the massacre of 700 Palestinian men, women and children in the two-days following the assassination. The return of U.S. military presence in the area was not welcome by the angerfueled extremists, and the unusually calm atmosphere that had enveloped the city for months was severely interrupted April 18, 1983. A coordinated attack was made on the U.S. embassy, where a delivery van filled with explosives detonated in front of the building, collapsing it and killing 46 people. Though the loss of innocent lives and uncontrolled chaos tested their wills to fight back, the Marines, sailors and soldiers would not be drawn into the conflict. Instead, they trained and equipped the Lebanese Armed Forces to defend themselves. Summertime brought sniper fire and targeted attacks against the Marines, and by September, service members were engaging in daily warfare. Tensions were rising, and the danger was inching closer as Alpha, Bravo and Charlie companies manned the perimeter of the compound. Because of the rules of engagement as a peacekeeping force, they were severely restricted

in their responses. A week before the attack on the barracks, professional-looking soldiers dressed in Soviet battledress uniforms and red-lettered white headbands fired on the Lebanese Science and Technical University, where Alpha Company was positioned. Capt. Michael Ohler was shot in the head and killed instantly while three more Marines were severely injured. As they awaited orders from Washington, D.C., the enemy planned. The night of Oct. 22, service members with the BLT celebrated the lives of their fallen comrades and enjoyed a musical performance hosted by the USO. Many of those same men never saw the sun rise again. The bomb exploded around 6:20 the following morning. “The force of the explosion initially lifted the entire four-story structure, shearing the bases of the concrete support columns, each measuring fifteen feet in circumference and reinforced by numerous one-and-threequarter-inch steel rods. The airborne building then fell in upon itself. A massive shock wave and ball of flaming gas was hurled in all directions,” wrote Eric Hammel in his book “The Root: The Marines in Beirut.” The majority of those killed were stationed out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and the small, coastal town of Jacksonville, N.C., where the base resides, was

shaken to its core. Before the names of the victims were even released, local residents quickly coordinated with military officials to begin helping in whatever way they could. Ironically, though the service members died in a country torn apart, their deaths brought a community together. The effects of the day would continue to ripple out for decades. When the World Trade Center buildings were destroyed Sept. 11, 2001, Beirut was regarded as the beginning of a series of terrorist events that continue today. The survivors of the attack, their families who awaited word of their loved ones’ fates and the community that rallied around them were forever changed. Unrest still stirs in the Middle East, but back home, Beirut’s veterans are held in high honor each year during memorial ceremonies around the country. “We gather to remember and to remind others of the brave men who sacrificed for the noble cause of peace,” Jordan said in his speech at an observance for the 15th anniversary of the attacks. Thirty years later, the dull pain of the mental and emotional wounds remains, but they still have one mission to complete. They must remember.

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STORY BY AMY BINKLEY Danny Joy has a knack for remembering. He tells stories from his childhood like they happened yesterday. He knows the names of most of the men he served alongside during his decades in the Marine Corps – and where they lived. He recalls, in great detail, strategic military battles and historical facts like he was there himself. But on occasion, all he wants is peace. “Sometimes I wish I could turn it all off, just for a little while,” Joy admitted. Others might see Joy’s remarkable memory as an enviable skill. However, when he lies in bed at night with the gruesome images of his friends dying in combat replaying again and again in his mind, it’s difficult to view it as a gift. “As I get closer to October every year, my (post-traumatic stress) gets worse, and I’m hyper vigilant,” he said. “I almost turn into a basket case.” Thirty years ago, Joy was a young corporal headed out on his on his second deployment to Beirut, Lebanon. He qualified for Force Recon, but had been assigned to Weapons Company,

1st Battalion, 8th Marines because of an administrative error. Though he was disappointed, he made the best of his situation, participating in boxing matches, becoming a lay Eucharistic minister and lending a hand for whatever task needed completed. Joy became proficient in every weapon he was given and learned the ins and outs of those in the company’s arsenal. He and his fellow Marines were trained to fight, but as part of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force, they could not engage in fire unless fired upon. The limitations were suffocating and aggravating as the weapons companies were moved into positions around the Beirut International Airport area, which served as the Battalion Landing Team’s compound. The mountains rose in front of them while the ocean lay behind. “Tactically, you want to be on the high ground, but we were on the low ground,” Joy explained. “It was like a fishbowl.” As a member of Alpha Company, Joy was asked to be a part of a special detachment sent to provide security at the ambassador’s residence in the mountains. “It was like the diplomatic corner of Beirut. The presidential palace was in this area, as well as

the ministry of defense, which was like our Pentagon,” he describes. “We were set up as a 17-man team to augment the state department’s security at the palace. We were watching the firefights and tracers go back and forth outside the fence. It was surreal.” The fights grew progressively worse, and soon, the residence itself was being targeted. “We heard these sounds, and we realized they weren’t mortars – they were katyusha rockets,” Joy remembered. “They were bracketing us.”

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Explosions erupted from all sides of the fence, and he and Glen Worsmen shook from the close proximity of one of the blasts. “That was close,” they said simultaneously. Though a lull in the fight allowed the Marines time to fix the fence, they hunkered down until it was over. Looking back, Joy figures the enemy probably had directional finding equipment and were using the Marines’ radio signals to find them and pinpoint their positions. “It left an indelible mark on my mind,” he said. Joy and his Marines were reattached to Alpha Company soon thereafter and moved to the university. Because they were the anti-armor section, they provided all the heavy weapons for the avenues of approach leading into Alpha Company’s position. “We’d been getting shot to hell for days. We were considered enemy combatants because the U.S. had naval gunfire in support of the Lebanese army,” Joy noted. “We started getting more accurate sniper fire, directed at us at the university. But it wasn’t just us. It was all the Marine positions around Beirut. There was specific, aimed fire, not just stray rounds.” Mid-October afforded Alpha Company little to no rest, and on Oct. 16, Joy became an eyewitness not only to the wounds of war but the death it welcomes. Capt. Micheal Ohler, a CH-46 pilot, moved to the top of the building the men stayed in to see if he could pinpoint the location of the enemies who were bearing down hard on the bunker with

sprays from machine guns and (rocket-propelled grenades). “We had a spotting device that could go up and over the wall, kind of like a periscope, so you could see your enemy,” Joy described. “This device causes you to have tunnel vision after looking in it for so long. (Ohler) had been looking in it so long that he sat back to get his bearing. He looked around the wall for just a moment and was shot in the forehead. It blew the helmet off his head. He died instantly.” Joy choked back tears as he vividly remembered the Marines taking Ohler’s body to the basement, where it would remain until the attack ceased. He took over the sniper position, searching earnestly for the enemy. Constant fire from RPGs brought him back down into the bunker along with Lance Cpl. Edwin Newcom and Lance Cpl. Sean Gallagher, who were manning the machine guns. “They had linked all these belts of machine gun ammo together instead of setting up what we call ‘talking guns,’ where you let out a burst, stop and then let the other guy shoot,” Joy explained. “They laid on this machine gun and blew threw like two belts of ammo. It looked like a pencil laser coming out of the bunker. The bad guys were able to see exactly where we were.” The next RPG found its mark as it hit the machine gun right below the tripod, blowing it all to pieces. Newcom put his hands up in front of this face. The shrapnel blew right through his hands, and he fell to the ground. Gallagher was blown up and unconscious. Necom, unaware of the extent of his injuries,

attempted to push himself to Gallagher. Without the use of his hands, however, he kept falling flat on his face bloodying it even more. “I was standing right there in the bunker watching it all,” Joy stated. At the cry for help, he went to the aid of Cpl. Richard Matthews whose tricep was ripped off during another explosion. Joy screamed for the corpsmen. “We got these guys downstairs and started working on them,” he said. “One corpsman had a flashlight in his mouth. Another was wrapping hands. They were working by candlelight. We didn’t have electricity or water. We were in a freaking war zone.” British troops finally came to their aid and assisted in escorting the wounded, the corpsmen and Joy back to safety. “There was no armor on the old jeeps. We didn’t even have the fold-up tops. It was wide open,” he commented. “The rounds were buzzing by us like bees. It was like everything was happening in slow motion.” Joy was in charge of the helo-roster and made sure the appropriate leadership had copies before flying to the medical center aboard the USS New Jersey, which was floating in the waters behind the compound. He remembers going to the rest room and splashing water on his face. Continues on Page 13

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recting the Beirut Memorial made two communities one They were fathers, brothers, sons and husbands of Jacksonville, N.C. – they were members of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune community. On March 24, 1983 the Camp Lejeune 24th Marine Amphibious Unit received orders to Beirut, Lebanon in response to the United States’ agreement to establish a military presence and act as a peacekeeping force between Muslim and Christian factions of the country. Seven months later, tragedy struck Jacksonville as the community learned of an atrocity inflicted upon those community members. The 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building was destroyed by terrorists driving a non-Lebanese truck filled with compressed gas-enhanced explosives, Oct. 23, 1983 – the victims never saw it coming. America lost 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers that fateful morning, many of whom resided in Jacksonville. That afternoon, the aftermath moved the City of Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission to rally together in planting memorial trees on Lejeune Boulevard. This act of remembrance started a movement of sorts, and both the local and national public joined in by donating funds to the commemoration project. Through many fundraising efforts, including young community members auctioning toys and schools joining together in writing letters to families of the fallen, the commission was able to plant one tree for each fallen serviceman along Lejeune Boulevard. On March 24, 1984, exactly one year after the 24th MAU received their fateful orders, their community dedicated the completed tree project in their honor. Continues on Page 10 30th beirut memorial|

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Two areas were suggested by NC DOT staff who proposed that all the plantings be combined into a Memorial Grove. City staff members have estimated that 273 trees of either variety could fit in the combination of the two areas. Since both are on the City’s trail system, the site would offer visitors an opportunity to walk from the Beirut Memorial through the memorial grove. Continues from Page 9

Since the creation of the living tree memorial, several trees were damaged through a variety of incidents and some had to be moved due to the building of the city’s bypass on Lejeune Boulevard. In 2011, a survey following Hurricane Irene indicated approximately one third of the trees suffered major damage and the discussion arose about replacing the trees. Two species have emerged as options for a stately memorial capable of being maintained by the city, although both would still need to be replaced in the future. The proposed trees for replacement are the Autumn Flowering Cherry because it flowers around the time of the Beirut Memorial Observance, and the Little Gem Southern Magnolia to honor native species and symbolize southern hospitality. The one-year anniversary of the atrocity passed, but its impact on the Jacksonville community didn’t fade and the city’s pursuit of remembrance did not waiver. The monetary contributions continued and the commission was prompted to erect a symbol to depict the significance of the Beirut tragedy. When Camp Lejeune offered the commission 4.5 acres of land at the corner of Lejeune Boulevard and Montford Landing Road, the commission’s vision grew into the memorial which stands in Jacksonville Memorial Gardens, today.

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While funding the large project was no easy feat, the local and national public once again rallied around this military community and 2,000 spectators attended the Beirut Memorial dedication, Oct. 23, 1986 – exactly three years after the bombing. Following the memorial’s completion, Abbé Godwin, the artist and creator behind North Carolina’s Vietnam Memorial, sculpted a bronze statue, which was dedicated Oct. 22, 1988. The National Fleet Reserve Associated Headquarters in Alexandria, Va. now holds a full-size replica and


Continues from Page 10

miniatures have since been created to fund educational scholarships for military dependents. Thirteen years later, the tragedy still weighed heavy on the community members and Beirut families. A poem entitled The Other Wall by Robert A. Gannon was cast in bronze and dedicated in 1991. The names of Marines, sailors and soldiers who died in the bombing are etched into the Beirut Memorial are joined by the names of three Marine pilots from the Jacksonville community who were killed in Grenada. The wall now holds 273 names of American heroes. Nestled in the trees in Jacksonville Memorial Gardens, the Beirut Memorial stands bold and complete but the impact of the bombing didn’t begin and end with the dedication of a memorial. The Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville communities have a single heart beat -- something unique to Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune. A memorial of this dimension has never been constructed by a community of civilians to honor their military residents and it stands today as the largest military memorial ever constructed from private funds. After 43 years of co-existing as two separate entities, the Beirut tragedy and ensuing memorial brought about the unity that continues to be celebrated, 30 years later. If there was ever any doubt of the support from Jacksonville’s civilian community members, the Beirut tragedy put an end to it. Camp Lejeune service members and their families can be proud to live in a city that not only appreciates their service, but goes into swift action in times of need.

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The memorial honoring the brave Ameri241 Marines, sailors and soldiers during . o o. $$3302 9 9$o 9mnm 9w 2 0 0 of many and remains unknown to some. can servicemen was dedicated one year later. This the early morn0 $ 0 $D n 0 n w o ow $0$0DD This early memorial was erected in a time of so ing hours of would be the first memorial the community had to that fate- remember the fallen heroes, who arrived in Leba- much pain for the military community, as President Ronald Reagan recognized in a letter to read by ful day and non not to bring war, but peace. On dedication day, more than 5,000 Marines, General Paul X. Kelley, commandant of the Marine the Marine Corps Base sailors and civilians gathered to honor not only Corps in 1984, during the dedication ceremony. “Dear General Kelley, as you stand before the Camp Leje- those who died in Beirut, but in Grenada during families of so many brave, young Americans who une and the United States’ invasion. Then Lt. Gen. Al Gray, Fleet Marine Force, II gave their lives in Lebanon and Grenada, you’ll Jacksonville, N.C. Marine Amphibious Force commanding general, be speaking for a proud and grateful nation that communi- discussed Marines, sailors and soldiers who gave deeply mourns and misses her gallant sons,” the letter during these two tragedies, as he spoke '11 to Lincoln ties felt '12their '11 Honda Pilot STK#83195.......................................$30,995 $17,995 STK#936574................................$29,995 Hondalives Civic STK#T32310A............................... MKZread. Honda Pilot STK#83195....................................... $30,995 STK#T32310A............................... $17,995 STK#936574................................ $29,995 Honda CivicSTK#T32310A............................... '11Lincoln Lincoln MKZ '11'11 Honda Pilot STK#83195....................................... $30,995 $17,995 STK#936574................................ 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They came in Peace OcTOber 23, 1983

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Continues from Page 7

“It was the first running water I’d seen in weeks,” he said. “I looked into the mirror, and I didn’t even recognize the face staring back.” Upon returning to the BLT headquarters, Joy was received with shouts of anger and frustration from the company commander and gunnery sergeant. He had forgotten to add his name to the roster, and everyone thought he’d been captured by the enemy. “Alpha Company needed ammo, chow and water. I got back out, relinked with my guys and amtracks brought us our supplies,” he remembered. “There was this one guy, Lance Cpl. Devon Sundar. When I got to 8th Marines, I was attached to his team. He taught me everything. He was awful in garrison but one of the best

field Marines you’d ever seen.” Joy stopped. “That was the last time I saw him,” he said. Operations continued as usual. As the first line of fire for the battalion, Alpha Company was ready to take out any vehicles that were coming into our position. Joy was just coming off of the red-eye duty post from midnight to 6 a.m. when everything changed. “All of the sudden there was a big boom and reverberation. It knocked sandbags on top of me,” he relived. “I thought, ‘What the hell was that?’ Looking through the binoculars, I couldn’t see the BLT building. It was gone – just dust.” The company stayed put, bracing themselves as the next target, but no more attacks came. It wasn’t until weeks later that they would learn about the bomb. “It was the largest, manmade non-nuclear explosion on the face of the earth still to this day. Basically, it was a super bomb,” Joy explained. “There were underground catacombs beneath the building that were actually guard posts where we kept all ammunition. When the building blew up, so did our ammo. The crater was almost 30-feet deep. It was massive.” The explosion caused the BLT building to collapse like a deck of

cards, killing 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers who were inside. It wasn’t the last time Joy would see death. After his deployment in Beirut ended, he reenlisted. He was stationed throughout the country and around the world and served on many more missions in the decades he spent in the Corps. Yet, it’s massive group of friends who lost their lives in the Beirut barracks whose faces haunt his memories. “I don’t like crowds any more,” he admitted. “I’ve got my two dogs to help with my PTSD.” Joy believes guardian angels protected him throughout his career. Through all the tragedies he’s seen, he’s learned to be more open minded, tolerant and “understanding of people in general.” His six-month tour in Beirut may have left scars on his soul, but it never destroyed his love for his country, its people or his fellow service members. He is active in many veteran organizations and takes great care to make sure the annual observance at the Beirut Memorial each October is done with class and dignity, no matter how big or small the crowd is. “The connection the Beirut veterans have will never be broken,” Joy assured. “We’re not alone. We’ll always be there for each other.”

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www.duke-energy.com 30th beirut memorial|13


I

Story by Amy Binkley

t’s difficult to destroy a destiny. Storms may shake it, dark trials may hide it from view, but for those who choose to keep moving forward, it will always shine like a beacon of hope. Retired Lt. Col. H. Larry Gerlach seemed destined for a life of leading. After enlisting in the Marine Corps in the 1960s, he was quickly sent to the University of Mississippi to earn a degree, which would allow him to become an officer. Gerlach paid his military dues by going to Vietnam not once, but twice. Even after sustaining severe injuries during his first tour, he volunteered to go back as soon as he recovered, only to be wounded again. Staring death in the face and walking away victorious became routine. A peacekeeping mission to Beirut, Lebanon at the end of the summer of 1983 was a welcomed break from the warrior’s battle cycle. “It was a noble mission, however ill-defined it was,” Gerlach remembered. Beirut was once considered the Paris of the Middle East, but by the time Gerlach arrived with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Battalion Landing Team, however, the city was a shell of its former glory. Buildings were ravaged with bullet holes and broken windows, and the holy wars that raged for centuries threatened to tear the country apart. Service members from the U.S., Italy and France formed the Multinational Peacekeeping Force, staying on the outskirts of the skirmishes, but making their presence and support known to the enemies. “I was proud and honored to serve with our group of Marines, corpsmen and soldiers,” Gerlach said. “It wasn’t a military mission in the typical sense – no attack, defend, withdraw, reinforce. It was political and more or less a diplomatic

14 | 30th Beirut memorial

show. We went in to be peacekeepers.” The retired Marine explained their mission was to assist in calming the unrest without engaging in the fight and to make the atmosphere peaceful enough for Beirut to rebuild. “It was pretty calm when we got there, but it degenerated into a very violent situation,” he noted. For weeks, Gerlach saw his men at the BLT take fire from an unruly enemy, and although he knew it was difficult, he was proud to see the group’s restraint and steadfastness to their mission. “When you’re being shot at every day and aren’t allowed to shoot back, it can wear a person down,” he described. “It was getting progressively worse, but they were Marines. They did what they were required to do and maintained combat operations.” Sleep is a precious commodity in war. In the early hours of Oct. 23, 1983, Gerlach was awake and walking around the command post. “You never got a full night’s sleep over there – just a couple hours here and there where you could catch them. We were taking on rockets and set on the highest alert,” he said. Around 5:30 a.m., he made his way up to the second deck of the BLT building where his room was located. He sat down for only a moment when he heard gun shots that seemed too close for comfort. He stood and walked his final steps before his destiny was altered forever. “There was an explosion,” he recalled. “I don’t remember anything after that.” What Gerlach couldn’t have known was a truck filled with tons of TNT had just driven into the lobby of the BLT and detonated the largest, non-nuclear explosion the world has ever seen. The blast, intensified by pressurized gas containers, raised the roof of the building, slammed it back down and caused the floors to crumble on to each other, from top to bottom. Gerlach was hurled from his window of the demolished building and found near the fence in the southwest corner. Unresponsive and with egregious injuries, he could not be treated in the field and was sent to be stabilized at Sahel General Hospital, a Shiite Muslim hospital in southern Beirut. His neck was broken and his spinal cord severed. No one expected him to live. Destiny had another plan. “I didn’t gain full cognizance until the first week of December, when I woke up in the hospital in Bethesda, Md.,” he revealed. “My wife Patty told me the (BLT) building was gone.” Gerlach couldn’t imagine anything powerful enough to destroy the four-story structure, but when his wife turned on the television and left the room, he saw the nightmare unfolding on the screen. “Almost everyone I asked about was dead,” he said. Although the shock of the bombing and his sudden state as quadriplegic was disheartening,

Gerlach maintained his mission as a Marine leader. “I got to see some of my men while we were all at the hospital,” he remembered. Encouraging and assuring them that everything would be all right was the silver lining on the dark cloud hanging over the tragedy. Thirty years ago, Gerlach’s life dramatically changed forever, but he keeps things in perspective. “It changed a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “We were just the beginning. There were widows, children and friends who were all affected.” Gerlach spent the years following the bombing adjusting to his altered destiny. His face had to be reconstructed because of the wounds he sustained, and he is bound to a wheelchair. Yet, his continued support and respect for the military never wavered. As often as he can, he and Patty make their way travel from their home in Virginia to his old stomping grounds in Jacksonville, N.C., for the annual remembrance ceremony at the Beirut Memorial held every Oct. 23. As an avid reader, he learned to appreciate his country and the principles it was founded on. “Our founding fathers really had something going. We are a nation where the rule of law prevails,” he explained. “There are some people in the world who just don’t like us (America). They think we got all of our freedoms by luck. But it didn’t just happen.” Gerlach watched through the decades as service members continued to fight the wars of their generations. He wasn’t filled with bitterness but rather respect for his younger comrades-in-arms.” “I’m proud of all of our young service men and women and the way they’ve conducted themselves,” he praised. “This is not an easy time with everything that has gone on in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As he looks toward the future, he credits his faith with bringing him through the darkest, most trying moments of his life and leaves those who follow in his footsteps a few practical pieces of guidance. “Have faith in yourself, your shipmates, your country and your God,” he advises. “And do your duty.”


B

Story by RET. CWO-4 Randy Gaddo

eirut veteran Mike Chard and his threemember team will be among 30,000 runners stepping off for the 38th Marine Corps Marathon at 7:55 on Oct. 27, in Washington, D.C. For the third time, Chard will run the marathon in remembrance of 270 military personnel killed in action during the Beirut operation, 1982-84. In 2003 and 2008, he did it alone; this year he will have help carrying a Beirut Veterans of America banner, a BVA flag and an American flag. His 25-year-old daughter, Alisa, will run with him. Alisa is a Navy ensign, a nurse newly assigned to the Wounded Warrior floor at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Chard, through Alisa, also has assistance from two Marine second lieutenants: Song Chen and Mark Dela Pena. The three young teammates met at their college Reserve Officers Training Corps unit in New York. Supporting Chard’s small team in spirit will be thousands of families and veterans who will descend on Jacksonville, N.C., Oct. 21-23, for the 30th Beirut Remembrance. Each year since 1984, the city of Jacksonville has sponsored the Remembrance. The BVA, formed in 1992 with the motto “The First Duty Is To Remember,” has become an integral part of the event. Chard served in the Army from 1974 to 1977 as a military policeman and from 1979 to 1984 with Special Forces. In Beirut, Chard was the engineer sergeant for Scuba Detachment-232, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces from Fort Devens, Mass., a small contingent of American trainers and advisors sent to work with the Lebanese army. My own Beirut memories span June 1983 to April 1984. But October of 1983 holds a significance that weighs heavier than all others,” he said. Chard explained that in Beirut he and members of his unit were supported by Marine units who guarded the airport perimeter. “We got together with the Marines periodically to barbecue a burger, drink a beer, trade stories and try to have a few laughs,” he recalled. “As the fighting and

shelling got heavier, that all changed since it became so hard to move around.” Chard will travel from his home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Jacksonville, to attend the 30th Beirut Remembrance, bringing the banner so families, friends and fellow military personnel can sign it to support the effort. He will leave Jacksonville and meet his team in Washington. The other three team members are scattered across the country and will run together for the first time when they take up their fags and banner at the marathon. Ensign Chard noted that geographical dispersion is trumped by unity of purpose. “When I’m training I think about carrying the flag and running next to my dad and those two Marines, and I run a little faster; I get chills sometimes thinking about it,” revealed Chard, who ran the Marine marathon last year. “There’s definitely a correlation between what happened in Beirut, what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, and the current global war on terrorism,” observed 2nd Lt. Dela Pena. “We’re fighting that battle today, but we’ll never forget the Marines who came before us,” he noted from his home in New York, where he awaits an opening at The Basic School. Second Lt. Chen first ran the marathon in 2011 while still in college. “It’s going to be a challenge, carrying the flags and banner for that distance,” said Chen, who is attending communications officer school at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “But we’ve all run the marathon before; we’re all in good shape, so we’ll do well.” Since its inception in 1976, the Marine Corps Marathon has grown to be the fourth-largest U.S. marathon, its route lined with supportive spectators. “The crowd has been amazing and helped me make it

through the run in the past,” recalled Mike Chard. “People would shout encouragement and thank me for my service. You can’t fail with support like that.” Marathon organizers have been supporting Chard’s effort, featuring it in their program magazine and highlighting it in various media events. Remembering is the reason this “fire team size” group will bear the extra weight and pain together as they run among the monuments in the nation’s capital. Mike Chard captured the essence of the purpose, saying: “Those men lost in Beirut, if they were here today, they would be our neighbors and friends … they would be husbands, fathers and grandfathers. America needed these men then, and America needs men like them now. Editor’s note: This article was published in “Leatherneck Magazine” and reprinted with permission.

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etired Maj. Robert Jordan always felt it was his God-given mission to share the stories of others. As a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps, he often found himself thrown into the middle of compelling, and sometimes dangerous, events. However, despite his many narrow escapes from death throughout his career, he never imagined the tragedy of which he’d become a part of the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, when a terrorist ignited a powerful bomb in the barracks where he and his fellow brothers-in-arms slept. Jordan found himself in Beirut, Lebanon, as the PAO for the 24 Marine Amphibious Unit two months prior to the attack. He’d witnessed the Marines, sailors and soldiers, who were sent on a peacekeeping mission to the war-torn area, endure sniper

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Story by Amy Binkley and mortar fire on a daily basis. “I was concerned about a number of issues that might devolve into situations that would draw the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force into combat,” he remembered. “I told my boss I was afraid I would be announcing the first combat deaths of our Marines since Vietnam …” He didn’t know how correct his prediction would be. In the weeks leading up to the barracks bombings, Jordan was forced to report several casualties as a result of small battles spilling onto the compound at the Beirut International Airport, as well as others who were taken out by sniper attacks from armed assailants. “America is fortunate to have men and women who are willing to stand and defend our rights and freedoms ‘against all enemies – foreign and domestic,’” he said. The self-described loner had been the target of many snipers’ scopes during his time in the Marine Corps, citing more

than 200 combat escort missions with international television and news crews and receiving a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” for valor during the Vietnam War. But when he looked through his binoculars while riding down a runway to check on troops at the southern end of the compound and saw a gunman aiming at him from the upper stories of an apartment building just a few hundred yards away. He felt a chill run down his spine. Jordan had been invited to share a meal with members of the French Foreign Legion the day of the bombing, but years of waking before the sun stirred him earlier than necessary. His attempt to catch a few more precious moments of sleep were thwarted when a deafening explosion catapulted the steel door of his room into his quarters, barely missing him and his roommates. Dressing quickly, he was met by his press chief, Staff Sgt. Randy Gaddo, who reported in a state of shock that the Battalion Landing Continues on Page 17

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Team was gone. “First, I was skeptical,” he admits upon first hearing the news. “You are taught in public affairs to always question first reports.” The unbelief of the reality set in when he spotted the control tower of the BIA, which should have been blocked from view by the four-story, three feet thick, walled barracks next door to the MAU headquarters. The blast had collapsed the building into a pile of rubble barely one story high. “The scene was surreal,” Jordan described. “Everything was covered by a thick layer of gray pulverized cement. I spotted what looked like the ragged stump of a tree, and then, in a mixture of horror, anger and frustration, I saw blood oozing from a severed leg.” He didn’t have time to process the scene before his training kicked in. Jordan, along with other survivors, quickly went to work. They formed a line, cleared debris, removed the injured to the aid station and placed the bodies of their dead comrades on a nearby truck. “I was too busy to think much about

what I was doing but the task before me,” he recalled. “The Marines, soldiers and sailors responded heroically. If they were scared, they didn’t show it. They refused to be intimidated and were dedicated to see their mission through. They certainly were not “defeated” in any sense. There was initial chaos, but it was resolved quickly and professionally.” Although Jordan paused for a short moment to ask a whispered prayer of why, it was only the gentle tone of his commanding officer, Col. Tim Geraghty, that stopped him and assigned him to his official duty of taking care of the media. Emotions threatened to betray his bearing, but he resolved to grieve later, recovered his composure and informed the members of the press of what he knew. Soon, they would learn more than 200 service members were dead and many more were severely wounded. “My staff and I were working (around the clock) for about a week. We managed the media, facilitated phone calls home, and dug in the rubble to recover the dead when we had a spare moment,” Jordan explained. “Sleep was something you grabbed in moments, not hours. It took us most of five days to retrieve all the bodies. No one was found alive after a day or two.” After many years in the Marine Corps, Jordan admitted he’d become hardened about losing comrades in combat, but to lose so many in such a senseless, violent attack was crushing. “I carried a bit of survivor’s guilt for a while and have a bit of (post-traumatic stress disorder) that presents itself from time to time without warning,” he said. “The pain never goes away … but you pick up the pieces and move forward. I often wondered why some men died right next to me, and I walked away

without a scratch. There isn’t anything special about me. But I decided that God needed a storyteller to tell others what really happened.” Bucking against his selfsufficient reputation, Jordan reconnected with Gaddo to form the Beirut Veterans of America association in 1992. The group has since erected memorials in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts and Florida, but every Oct. 23, survivors, friends and families gather in Jacksonville, N.C., just down the road from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, where many of the victims were stationed, to remember those who were lost. “The Beirut bombing broke the hearts of not only the military families involved, but also the people of Jacksonville,” Jordan noted. He recalled how school children donated their pennies for the memorial while veteran organizations served barbecues and spaghetti suppers to raise money. Even individual citizens dug deep into their savings to see that it would be a memorial that would weather well into the future and would embody the spirit of not only those who died, but those who survived. “This is more than a memorial,” Jordan explained. “It is a symbol of a bond between the citizens of Jacksonville and the military – past, present and future.”

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We will always remember

October 23, 1983

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The Peacekeepers Speak

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mother’s love knows no bounds. Neither time, proximity nor circumstances can diminish her unfailing and unconditional devotion to her children. Not even death itself. Peggy Stelpflug and Mary Ellen Jackowski were thrust into shock and mourning Oct. 23, 1983, when they received the news that their sons, both serving in the Marine Corps, would never be coming home. Assigned to a peacekeeping mission in Beirut, Lebanon, Lance Corporal Bill J. “Billy” Stelpflug and Cpl. James Jackowski were killed when a terrorist ignited a bomb in the barracks where the young men were sleeping. In an instant, their futures were snatched away, and their loved ones were forced to face life without them. Months after the tragedy, the two mothers, along with the other many friends and family members w h o w e r e grievi n g , c o n tinued to receive letters from of the 241 victims of the bombi n g . T h e i r voices echoed in their w r i t i n g s, somehow keeping their memories alive. “I think I will take a bus back just to see what it is like to

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Story by Amy Binkley

come home so slow and happy instead of leaving so fast and sad,” Billy wrote to his parents on Oct. 19, 1983. “I hope you won’t get mad at me if I lie on the sofa too much … See you in a while.” Mary Ellen and Peggy formed a friendship throughout the decades that followed after attending many memorials for the men who sacrificed their lives. After the 25th anniversary of the attack, the pair discussed an idea Mary Ellen had long held tight to – it was time to share the messages left behind by the Beirut Marines. “Since those who were killed in action in Beirut can’t speak for themselves, it is our duty to do it for them,” Mary Ellen explained. “All those who were there who have kept it bottled up for 30 years – their voices must be heard as well. Even those who have been affected by the events of Beirut need to express their feelings.” The result of their plan is a collection of letters from the deceased service members, the survivors and their loved ones entitled, “Voices from Beirut:  The Peacekeepers Speak.” “These writings give us an insight into what the Marines and their fellow servicemen were doing during this mission and how they performed, describing their feelings, their thoughts and their overwhelming love of family and friends at home,” Peggy said. Mary Ellen admits the project was extremely emotional, not only for her but for everyone who sent in submissions for the book. However, she and Peggy were determined to preserve the thoughts and feelings of those involved. “Reading these submissions, (you know) what they all  felt,” she stated. “They were waiting to come home, appreciated their loved ones and felt they were doing their peacekeeping mission and making a difference in Beirut.” Another one of Billy’s letters from Oct. 1983, this one to his sister Kathy, reads, “Well, I’ve always dreamed about being in combat, and here I am a teenager giving them hell … We take a lot

Cpl. James Journeay Jackowski, USMC 24th MAU BLT 1/8 H&S Food Services: Cook KIA Oct. 23, 1983 Written to his parents on Oct. 16, 1983: Hi Mom & Dad … We had someone killed the other day and two others wounded and another was scratched by shrapnel, no other big news going around.... Another thing, I’m not going to be able to come home for Thanksgiving because the scoop I got was a crock. We’re still scheduled to come home on or around the 7th of Dec., but I’m taking leave on the 21st and it’s going ‘til around the 10th of Jan. That means I’ll be able to come home for eighteen days, sounds good? I’ve been told by one of the men in charge that I’ll be going to Alexandria on the 22nd of this month. I can’t wait! ... I should have lots of fun relaxing, do you agree? The longer I stay away from this place the faster I get back home, to me anyway.... I got your package the other day and it was great. I loved it! Thank you... Well I think that’s all I have for now. I love you and miss you very much and I think of you very much. Every time I think of you I get a funny feeling in my stomach, so I can’t wait to see you both. That’s all, bye. Love, Jamie

more than we give though. America is too big to fight.” While it won’t take away the pain completely, the ladies hope the book will be a part of the ongoing healing process for the families, friends and survivors of the bombing. “I have always had great respect for the young men who wanted so much to help Lebanon,” Peggy commented. “I now have even greater understanding of their courage, their humor, their dedication and their love and commitment to our country and its Constitution.”


Echoes from Beirut

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Ret. Master Gunnery Sgt. John Nash

Story by Katie Mathison

hick, black smoke eclipsed the sun after the bomb went off. When the smoke cleared, all that was left of the four-story building was a charred, mangled shell. Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. John W. Nash, former communication chief for the information assurance department, G-6, II Marine Ex-

peditionary Force, experienced the bombing first hand. Around 6:30 a.m. Oct. 23, 1983, while most of the Marines slept, a suicide bomber drove a truck with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT into the Beirut Marine Corps barracks. “It was a four-story building that crumbled like a toothpick,” Nash said. “There was no time for the Marines to react, take cover or protect themselves.” It was only by sheer luck Nash survived the bombing mostly unharmed. “I was awake lying in my cot,” he said. “I was a corporal, at the time, talking to the corporal next to me. We were discussing whether we should get up and go get some chow or just lie there. Had we gotten up for chow, we would have died. We were the only two survivors in the area.” For Nash this was just the beginning; he had been buried alive. After he and the other corporal dug themselves out, they began searching for clothes, weapons and ammunition, he said. They were unsure of what had happened. “There was so much black smoke you couldn’t see and all you could hear was screaming,” Nash said. “There was so much confusion we really didn’t know what was going on.” Master Sgt. Emanuel Simmons, then a staff

noncommissioned officer in charge, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, also survived the bombing. “When I woke up, I thought the ceiling to the room had caved in,” he said. “I didn’t think I was buried under the whole building. So I lay buried and burning in the rubble.” When the survivors figured out what had happened, they immediately set up medical quarters at Marine Amphibious Unit Service Support Group. The path from the barracks to the medical center is something Nash says he will never forget. “We called the trail from the building to the medical center ‘the path of death,’” he said. “We called it that because a lot of the Marines Continues on Page 22

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who were wounded were trying to make it to medical. They were crawling missing arms and legs just trying to make it. The path was covered in bodies of those who didn’t make it. We were just looking for guys who were still alive and take them to medical.” Thirty years later the Marine Corps still remembers the attack and has learned from it. “The Marine Corps has learned a great deal

since then,” he said. “I do a lot of public speaking and I have spoken to Marines from all over and the feedback is incredible. Marines are always hungry for information. They want to know what happened and how they can prevent it.” Simmons added he hopes people never forget what the young men sacrificed. They came as peacekeepers and left as victims.

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Leaving Beirut: ‘Give me somebody to turn it over to’ I

Story by ret. Col. Keith Oliver

f there was a single act or gesture that epitomized the 2nd Marine Division’s involvement in the country of Lebanon over the past two years (‘82 and ‘83), it was probably that which occurred on Sunday morning, Feb. 26 at Beirut International Airport. The scene was photographed by a Marine gunnery sergeant and has been described in a variety of military and civilian publications worldwide, running the gamut from the Camp Lejeune Globe to the New York Times Magazine. The day before had been a flurry of activity as the ships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet welcomed home men and machines in one of the most orderly and efficient tactical redeployments ever conducted. Howitzers, tanks, jeeps and scores of Marines, veterans of conflict in both Grenada and Lebanon, made their way to the USS Guam, USS Manitowoc and other vessels which supported the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit operations in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. In the wee hours of the morning on the 26, Gunnery Sgt. Randy Bare of West Virginia reported that “it was as if a silent command were given” as

the remaining forces of Echo Company trooping toward waiting helicopters, fell quiet while passing the devastated “BLT building” which had been leveled by the now, infamous terrorist attack in October 1983. Daylight would come soon and, shortly thereafter, a touching moment which would be forever engraved on the memories of the few who participated. The location, the Lebanese Liaison Office at Beirut International Airport. The occasion the formal turning-over-of-the keys to the Lebanese Government. Col William “Pat” Faulkner, a former corporal and native of Charlotte, N.C., commanded the MAU throughout its highly successful “Operation Urgent Fury” in Grenada and now, with the establishment of a Joint Task Force ashore headed by Brig. Gen. Jim Joy, he found himself MAU commander at a more quiet but, perhaps, no less significant, moment. This was it. The Marines had done a job; not the taking of an island or a hill that suits their nature so well but, rather as disciplined, pliable tools in the hands of their country, serving once again, with distinction on foreign soil. Such poetic thoughts were probably far from Col. Faulkner’s mind when he deliberately but courteously marched into the Liaison office with a handful of his staff looking for “somebody to turn it over to.” Appearing for all the world like a camouflage-clad John Wayne, with one hand crooked in his flak jacket and a no-nonsense glint in his eye, the Marine aviator conducted the transfer the way he conducted much of his business brief and to the point. Smiles and handshakes were exchanged all around and, cueing his operations officer, Lt.

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Col. Ernie Van Huss, the MAU commander expressed a desire to retrieve the American flag which was displayed behind the liaison officer’s desk. Old Glory’s staff crossed one that supported the cedaradorned national ensign of the Lebanese. As a symbol, the American flag represented the last official U.S. vestige at a complex which, it was believed, would be turned over to largely antigovernment forces (the Amal) within days. Lt. Col. Van Huss, a God-fearing infantry officer whose Tennessee upbringing and boyhood association with scouting had given him a special respect for the Stars and Stripes from early on, reached for the colors. As he had planned to do even the day before, Van Huss and the air officer, Maj Bill Sublette, very reverently and properly folded the American standard as all hands stood at the position of attention. After Van Huss had made the final fold, making the flag into its traditional, star-covered triangle, the room was very quiet for a few seconds until, almost wistfully, a Lebanese officer spoke. “Here,” the Middle Eastern officer said, reaching for the flag of Lebanon, “you might as well take ours, too.” Editor’s Note: Reprinted from a 1985 edition of Follow Me, newsletter of the 2nd Marine Division Association, with permission. 30th beirut memorial|23


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ince the tragic terrorist bombing of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 23, 1983, the communities of Jacksonville, N.C. and neighboring Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune have joined forces to honor the fallen through the erection of monuments, events and annual observances. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the tragic loss of 241 Americans; a day etched into the minds of this community as it lost many of its own residents on that historic day. The ceremonies will continue in fullforce t h i s year a s

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Story by Chantel Green the communities come together as one and rally around the fallen, their families and the survivors in remembrance. Prior to the Oct. 23 anniversary, avid runners will challenge themselves to honor the victims of the 1983 atrocity. The runners will lace up their shoes for the 10K Beirut Memorial Run as part of the 2013 Grand Prix Series, Oct. 12. The race will begin at Camp Johnson and the participants in volunteers will remember the brave American service men who died serving as peacekeepers. At the Beirut Memorial site, a private candlelight ceremony will be held for families of the fallen and Beirut veterans in the early morning of Oct. 23. Shortly thereafter, the public will honor the Beirut peacemakers by gathering at the memorial site for the annual observance ceremony. In an independence remembrance journey, former Marine

sergeant Paul Doolittle will begin a 273-mile walk to the Beirut Memorial in honor of those killed in the Beirut bombing. Doolittle calls his journey “A Walk to Remember� and each mile will represent one victim etched into the Beirut Memorial Wall. His journey starts in Swansboro, N.C., Oct. 1 and will continue in and around Jacksonville, ending at the Beirut Memorial. Due to Marine Corps program events, civilian community observances and personal journeys of remembrance, the Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune communities will be filled with pride, remembrance, honor and solemnity on the 30th anniversary of the bombing that hit the two communities’ hearts with brute force.


Echoes from Beirut

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Retired Navy Chief Darrel Gibson

Story by Amy Binkley

doctor’s duty is to his patients. A Marine’s is to his country – and everyone in it. Ret. Navy Chief Darrel Gibson was both. Joining the military was a natural course for Gibson to take. His father and grandfather served, and it only seemed right to continue the decision by signing up for the “best branch” – the Marine Corps. “The Marine Corps thrives on discipline. I love that,” Gibson stated. Although he worked his way through the ranks, he decided not to reenlist and tried his luck as a regular civilian. Four years later, he was ready to return to the work he knew best. “In the military, you work hard, do your time and get promoted,” he said. “Civilian life wasn’t like that.” Having left a sergeant, the Marine Corps wanted Gibson to start over as a lance corporal. He decided to join the Navy instead. He excelled upon returning to the routine of military life, and his job as a corpsman allowed him to work closely with the Marines. As a petty officer second class, Gibson was assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, for a year and a half, and was by the Marines side as they floated to Beirut, Lebanon as part of the newly formed Multi-

national Force in 1983. “It was my duty to oversee seven junior corpsmen in conducting sick call, preventative medicine practice and taking care of our Marines and sailors on a day-to-day basis,” he explained. “When we first got there, we showed up in full gear, but we saw guys running around in (physical training) gear. That’s how low-key it seemed.” The service members formed a 180 degree barrier around the compound at the Beirut International Airport, with the city and mountains in front of them and the ocean at their backs. Although they were prepared for a war, the rules of engagement for the MNF called for the men to maintain their mission as a peacekeeping force. “We were just there to show the flag,” Gibson remembered. “No one was happy about it. We were trained to fight.” Their enemy was savvy to the Marines’ strict orders and often took advantage of the fact that the Marines could not shoot back. “There was always an apology, saying it had been an accident,” he described. “But they knew we couldn’t fire without approval.” With little else to do, Gibson helped however he could, distributing ammunition, teaching medical classes and making the rounds with Marines who were on guard duty. The Battalion Landing Team’s

building not only served as a barracks for a majority of the service members but also housed offices and the health records of everyone stationed at the compound. “(The BLT) was the hub of everything,” he remembered. A few months later, Gibson was asked by Dr. John Hudson, a well-liked Navy lieutenant and a friend, if he would take over as Alpha Company’s senior corpsman. Gibson didn’t hesitate and joined the men on the edge of the airport. “When I got out there, we had a lot of Marines who were sick because of hygiene and sanitation issues. We had to take care of that as soon as possible,” he said. “We did a lot of patrols in the high Continues on Page 26

They Came In Peace The Montford Point Marine Association Chapter 10 and Ladies Auxiliary remembers our 241 fallen comrades of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. October 23, 1983 Beirut Gone but never forgotten... 30th beirut memorial|25


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country in jeeps and foot patrols in town.” The group of men garnered a lot of attention from the enemy outside the perimeter, and soon they were taking direct fire. Before changing locations, Gibson and his men had seen three of their brothers-in-arms killed and more than 20 injured. Alpha Company soon packed and set up camp at the university, but the rocket and mortar attacks did not stop. Years of war had left the building with no doors or windows, and one entire side was completely open, making the Marines open targets. The men were moved to the lower levels for better protection, but Gibson spent a lot of his time outside where the echoes of the rounds being shot weren’t as loud. “Wherever Alpha Company went, we were like a magnet. They pulverized us,” Gibson explained. “Most of the time it would calm down late at night while (the enemy was) sleeping, but they were back at it the next morning. We didn’t have a sleeping pattern.” Periodically, Gibson would force the Marines to take off their boots for a little while in order to make sure their feet weren’t becoming infected. “Trying to make a Marine take off his boots is like pulling teeth. They’d raise hell, but I’d assure them I was right there, watching out for them,” he said. “Most everybody was dirty all the time.” As the days went on, the Marines took a steady barrage of fire. “We couldn’t shoot at them and that just pissed us off,” Gibson said. “They were right there, in our sights, and even though we knew they were going to fire on us, we couldn’t do anything about it.” On Oct. 16, heavily armed men in Syrian camouflaged uniforms pummeled Alpha Company’s location. Capt.

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Michael Ohler left the safety of the lower levels of the building to pinpoint their foes’ positions. He was shot in the forehead, just under the lip of his helmet. “Capt. Ohler was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Gibson recalled. “We couldn’t take his body anywhere for about a day and a half because we were being fired on, but we tried to be as respectful as we could. We took him down to the lowest level of the bunker and set up a two-man watch at all times.” With Ohler dead and three other comrades wounded, Gibson hoped they’d seen the worse of the “peacekeeping” mission, but a week later he learned it was only the beginning. “It was 6:02 or 6:03, depending on what clock you were looking at,” Gibson said of the morning of Oct. 23. “There was a big blast. It was so strong, it knocked some of our guys form their cots.” For a few seconds, there was complete silence as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. “We thought we had taken a direct hit. This was stronger than anything they’d shot at us before,” he admitted. “We didn’t know the BLT had been hit until we looked through the binoculars and someone said, ‘The BLT is gone.’” The dust from the destruction of the barracks, blown up by a bomb driven into the building, kept Alpha Company from seeing the full extent of the attack. They were ordered to stay in place and warned their position may be hit next. “Marines are a different breed. They’re strong-willed and always wanting to do more,” Gibson noted. “Everyone was aggravated because those were our people. We wanted to help.” Some time later, Gibson and a handful of others were taken to the scene. “There were bulldozers moving all the destroyed

concrete around, and I saw Doc Hudson’s body still laying in the debris,” he remembered. He quickly took the doctor and another deceased comrade and placed them in body bags. “(After that) there were no other bodies – just arms, legs and fragments of what had been my men.” A few tears and swallowed anger later, Gibson pushed down his feelings to take care of the men who survived, making a note to deal with the lost lives at another time. “How did I deal with it then? One day at a time. How do I deal with it now? One day at a time,” he commented. For years, Gibson kept the demons and memories away, focusing on his military career and maintaining the routine, structure, camaraderie and purpose. “There were always new troops to train who, at some point in time, may face the same challenges,” he said. “I wanted to be sure they had the best training they could get beforehand. However, fighting in Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Iraq, in addition to the nightmares of Beirut, took its toll. “After I retired, the loss finally hit full force, with all the faces of the men (who died), the cries for help, the helplessness of not being able to fix everything to keep my troops safe, and always the guilt for surviving when they didn’t,” he admitted. Thirty years later, Gibson still finds it difficult to talk about. He typically goes to the annual memorial in Jacksonville, N.C., after everyone has left in order to pay his respects. He avoids seeing his old friends, not because he doesn’t care but because it’s hard to see them face to face. “I never want to forget any of my men and the price they paid nor any of those who stood by my side and followed orders without fail,” Gibson said.


A

STORY BY CHANTEL GREEN

s a cloud of smoke cleared, a 30-foot deep crater remained where the barracks of the Battalion Landing Team 1/8 in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 23, 1983. The building was the target of a terrorist bombing attack, which took the lives of 241 service members – 220 were Marines. The Marines, sailors and soldiers who lost their life in the senseless tragedy were men of valor who risked their lives in a war-laden part of the world to serve not as fighters, but peacekeepers. In the aftermath of the loss of these fathers, sons, brothers and husbands, memorials were erected in their honor around the city of Jacksonville, and in 1986 the Beirut Memorial was dedicated just in front of Camp Johson’s gates. The memorial’s wall lists the names of 273 men who died in Lebanon and Granada from 1982 to 1984, and to further commemorate these gallant men who “came in peace,” the families of the fallen asked a postage stamp to be issued in their honor. The stamp initiative began just shortly after the commissioning of the memorial. Since the original initiative, a plethora of groups and individuals have petitioned the United States Postal Service for their cooperation in providing a stamp to remember the peacekeepers.

In 2003, Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr. introduced House Resolution 45, which asked Congress to issue the stamp. But, the resolution never received enough signatures and was unable to be put to a vote in the House of Representatives. Those behind the Beirut Stamp Initiative were disheartened, but didn’t give up. In 2005, Judith Young, co-founder of the Beirut Stamp Initiative, estimated more than 75,000 signatures had been sent to the stamp commission in favor of the initiative’s mission to honor the fallen service members of Beirut. While the number of supporters grew, the USPS continued declining the requests and in 2010, the Beirut Stamp Initiative issued the postal stamp without permission. The stamp was issued through www.zazzle.com and while a legitimate postage stamp, it cannot be purchase at a post office. The initiative released a press release on July 14, 2010 to share their exciting news. The press released was signed by Bill Kibler, webmaster for the initiative, who said that the organization was tired of begging at the hands of the USPS. After 25 years of waiting, the veterans and family members of Beirut were finally able to purchase their stamp through a private website and the proceeds continue toward the Gold Star Mothers National Monument Foundation.

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ECHOES FROM BEIRUT

Ret. Lt. Col. Claude Davis III

STORY BY DOUGLASS GILHOOLY

“It was like any other Sunday,” said Lt. Col. Claude H. Davis III, former senior personnel administrator for II Marine Expeditionary Force, as he recalled the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. “Normally… I would go to lift weights in the Battalion Landing Team building,” he explained, but that day he reported to his office instead. “The Dallas Cowboys’ Cheerleaders came to visit the night before, so a lot of us had some work to catch up with.” “I was in the office, busily typing away on casualty reports, when I heard this loud boom,” said Davis. “Hearing an explosion was quite common at this time, but I felt this one was very close and much louder. It shook my building and a few fans were falling down around the office.” Davis’ eyes began to mist as he so easily remembered the tragedy of the bombing. As a first lieutenant and adjutant for the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, Davis worked in an old firehouse that served as the MAU headquarters. The explosion took place some 100 meters away at the BLT building that used to be a hotel. “As I walked

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outside and went to investigate the explosion, I was a little shocked,” he said. “It was pretty chaotic. People were screaming and yelling, and I really still didn’t know what had happened.” “As I walked along, I continued to hear screams and sirens and I could see a lot of smoke. I walked on and came to this divide. There were magnificent olive trees that separated the road between my building and the BLT. I noticed the sun was beaming on me, and I had to take a second glance to make sure I was in the right spot. Normally at this time the sun was blocked. I passed through the trees and saw the mass hysteria.” Upon reaching the blast sight, Davis took stock of his surreal surroundings. “The building was in flames and much of it was rock and smoke on the ground. Papers were floating around in the air. As I looked around, I realized there were Marines still in their sleeping bags up in the trees I had just walked through. Walking along, I could smell the explosives and bodies.” According to Davis, being a Marine, no matter what military occupational specialty, in the time of war and terrorist attacks, everyone is affected. “Most of the Marines and sailors killed in the bombing were administration, cooks, corpsmen and supply,” he said. “There were not a whole lot of infantry. This was a real wake up call for all of us (in Beirut). I learned how important life is and also how fragile.” Davis admitted the days that immediately followed the bombing were the hardest. “We ran out of supplies, and we had to wait for more help to come from the Navy ships

offshore,” he said. “One thing we ran out of was body bags,” said Davis, “so we had to start using Marines’ ponchos.” Davis said it was a time when everyone came together and worked around the clock to perform the tasks that needed to be done. He compared it to New York City and Washington. Davis said he wishes to stress the fact Marines must constantly train and hone their skills. “You never know what kind of situation you will be in,” he said. “One day you may be someplace like Beirut, and if you don’t constantly sharpen your basic Marine Corps skills, you may not be ready. “I cannot stress enough, no matter what your MOS is, there is always a possibility of an attack,” Davis said. Davis had a last thought for all those who served with him in Beirut. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people over there (Beirut),” he said. “They are always on my mind and in my heart.”


USO HONORS PEACEKEEPERS

Y

ears before many of the Marines who now walk the grounds of Camp Lejeune were born, their predecessors, sleeping in their barracks in Beirut, were awakened by the sounds of explosions. The attack was calculating and cowardly, and on the deadliest day the Marine Corps had seen since World War II, 241 lives were lost. While the enemy sought to destroy not only a physical presence but also morale, the community of Onslow County came together to stand in unflinching unity and support

STORY BY AMY BINKLEY

for their husbands, friends and neighbors. “This area is one place that remembers us and our friends and what happened to us,” said Mark Hacala, with Beirut Veterans of America. “It was a peaceful mission that turned to combat.” Survivors, family members, volunteers and many others gathered at the USO in Jacksonville, N.C., for the dedication of the remodeled Beirut Memorial Room in 2011. “It affected everyone in this community,” said Deb Fisher, director of the USO of North Carolina Jacksonville Center. “Just as the USO of NC, Jacksonville Center is a piece of Jacksonville’s history, so was the Beirut bombing. Anyone and everyone who either lives in here or visits should know about the effects on our town Octo-

ber 23, 1983.” The renovation of the room took top priority after Fisher took

over in 2010. “If you’re going to put the word ‘memorial’ on something, it should

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represent dignity and respect,” she said. With the help of 35 volunteers working for more than 450 hours, the Beirut Memorial Room became nearly unrecognizable, filled with new furniture, carpet and a large marble sign with the names of all the casualties and the message, “They came in peace.” Emotions ran high for many who attended the ribbon-cutting, including spouses of those who fell on that fateful October day. “Today is a special day,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Joseph Houle. “It’s important to have rooms like these because of the history and to remember tragedy that happened so we can walk free on the streets of America.” John Falkenbury, president of the USO of North Carolina, wasn’t shy about his feeling when recounting the attack. “When it happened, I was angry,” he said. “Today is a bittersweet time because we’re bringing up old wounds. But we’re opening up a room that was in disarray and bringing it back to life.” Judy Young, a Gold Star Mother whose son, Sgt.

Jeffrey B. Young was killed in the bombing, spoke to the crowd who had come. “Beirut will only have one paragraph in the history books, which is sad because so many lessons could be learned,” she said. “Fortunately, the city of Jacksonville has not forgotten.” Young could not hide her appreciation to the citizens and volunteers who helped make the room a reality. “We have always been a family,” she said. Since the dedication of the room, Fisher learned just how touching the project was for the families. “My goal was to provide a nice, comfortable place for survivors and family members to go and relax,” said Fisher. “I want them to get comfort and know that people still remember their loved ones.” Beirut veterans, as well as multi-generational Beirut Gold Star families continually visit and etch their family members’ names from the granite sign. “The first anniversary after the remodel so many Beirut survivors and Gold Star families saw it for the first time and their comments and emotions were overwhelming,” Fisher recalled. “They’re just so thankful people still remember.” The Beirut Memorial Room has hosted veterans, grieving widows and even young Marines who learn about the men who

fought before them. “Everyone remembers Oct. 23, the anniversary of the bombings,” said Fisher. “But this (room), lets (survivors and family members) know they’re remembered all year long.” Words spoken at Sgt. Jeffrey B. Young’s memorial service sum up the importance and purpose of the memorial. “They did not make war. They were simply victims of war in the honorable attempt to keep peace. The gift of these men was of the ultimate quality, and we know that it was of such value that it cannot be given again.”

Nominations open through November 7, 2013. www.CampLejeuneGlobe.com 30 | 30TH BEIRUT MEMORIAL


ECHOES FROM BEIRUT

Paul Rivers

STORY BY CHET DECKER, U.S. MARINE CORPS FORCES

As the images of bodies being pulled out of the rubble in Oklahoma City flickered across his television screen, Paul Rivers stared on in horror. But unlike the rest of America, the images triggered more than disbelief. They triggered memories, and the nightmares began. One year later, scores of U.S. Airmen lost their lives in the terrorist bombing of military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Again, Rivers shuddered, as his past hurried to catch up with him. He had lost his buddies. All of them. Rivers didn’t just lose a friend in a car wreck or a couple of pals in a freak accident. All of his close, trusted friends died on the same day – 30 years ago — on Oct. 23, 1983, when a terrorist bombing killed 241 American servicemen in Beirut, Lebanon. Paul Rivers is one of the few who survived the blast and can provide a rare first-hand account of perhaps the most tragic event in Marine Corps history. All said and done, he was one of the lucky ones. According to him, there were 150 Marines residing on the second floor of the building and 148 lost their lives. The former Cpl. Rivers was one of the two that lived. “I had the whole thing behind me, and it was in the cellar of my brain,” he said. “I tried to leave it there forever, and it started getting harder and harder every year.” The list of his murdered friends goes on and on: Lance Cpl. Steven Jones, Lance Cpl. Warren Richardson, Cpl. Obrian Weekes. They were names Rivers had tried to forget, names he hasn’t heard in years. Oct. 23, 1997, 14 years after the fateful Sunday morning in Beirut, Rivers decided to do something he hadn’t done since November 1983 – come back to Camp Lejeune. He made his return to come to terms with his past by attending the annual, heavily-attended ceremony at the Beirut Memorial, which includes a wall listing all those killed in Beirut and Grenada. Although his visits to the Beirut Memorial have helped, he has never gotten the closure he wants. Rivers knows he’ll never receive any type of compensation from those that scarred him for life and murdered his friends. But he would like to try. He’ll never forget, and unlike the past, these days he no longer tries to. “I’d just try to put it out of my mind until next year,” said Rivers. Rivers doesn’t talk about the bombing or brag that he is one of the few survivors. He doesn’t even discuss it with his wife Sandra. He can recall the moment vividly ... the orange light, the walls tumbling down, the smoke, the dust ... the bodies of his fellow Marines. The night before the attack, the building was on high security, forcing all Marines not on duty to seek shelter in the basement. Hours earlier, Rivers, who had only about six months left before finishing his enlistment, had returned from a three-week liberty run. The Marines he had palled around with were all killed in the coming blast. “I stayed down there and fell asleep with everyone else. There were probably about 200 of us down there. It was all crowded, and then I woke up at about 3:30 a.m. and dragged my butt up to the second floor. Where I slept I was right over the lobby area on the front part of the building,” he said. That was right above were the terrorist drove the van

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through the barriers and detonated his deadly cargo. Rivers, a squad leader, said he doesn’t know why he went up to the second floor where many of the other Marines had already gone. He says it was as if he had a sixth sense to return to the NCO room where seven others were sleeping. As Corporal of the Guard, Rivers was supposed to have been awoken by his men at 6:15 a.m. to post for his 6:30 a.m. guard duty. The wake up call never came. He awoke five minutes early and saw that his Marines were still sleeping and no one was waking him up. “It wasn’t but 30 seconds, and I heard a VAVOOM, VAVOOM, and all hell broke lose,” he said. “The whole place lit up like the sun. It felt like something had hit me in the head. The place had started shaking, and I rolled into the fetal position. That’s the way I ended up staying.” All seven Marines in the room with him were killed. Of the two Marines on the second deck who lived, Rivers came out the best. But his injuries were still severe. Both of his ear drums were blown, and Rivers could only see out of one eye. The bombing was over, but the nightmare for Rivers was only beginning. After regaining consciousness, Rivers found he was trapped under the rubble. That of his friends and that of his own. A pipe was melting onto his face, but he couldn’t move. He wanted to grab his rifle, in the probable event that the enemy would try to overrun the position and kill what few survivors there were – most of which were trapped under rubble. “I started kicking with one foot, trying to get up and get my rifle. I thought we were getting overrun. I had to get out and find my rifle and defend myself. The wall had fallen on top of me,” Rivers said. Then he felt another human hand touching his. The bricks and beams were being lifted off him. “It was as if everything had fallen around me, with only little things on me,” he said. “I was in my own special crevice, and everything had fallen flat around me. Everything had fallen on everybody else.” All Rivers can recollect is some Arab people in camouflage with rifles slung over their backs were helping him out. They placed him in the back of a Mercedes and sped away. Then Rivers lost consciousness again. He was brought to an unidentified hospital where he woke up and saw there were other surviving Marines in the beds next to him. A doctor kept asking him, “Where does it hurt?” in broken English. “There were Lebanese soldiers guarding us. All they could say is ‘I don’t like soldiers.’ They were trying to ask me questions, and all I would give them is my name, rank, and social security number.” Rivers thought he was a prisoner of war. He had no clue what was going on around him. There was a deceased gunnery sergeant in the bed next to him, Rivers said. His body lay there the three days Rivers was in the hospital. Then he remembers a lieutenant stopping by and

taking the Marines away. It was then that Rivers realized he was in the heart of enemy territory, and the Lebanese guards were protecting the Marines from further attack. The Marines were brought back to the Beirut International Airport where the bombing had occurred. Rivers’ stretcher was placed inside a hangar where hundreds of bodies lay in identical coffins. Rivers and two survivors were flown to the helicopter amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, where he was awarded the Purple Heart by then Vice President George Bush. Later that evening, he was brought to Germany, and after two weeks of surgeries and recuperation in a Frankfurt hospital, he was brought to Washington D.C., where many dignitaries were awaiting the survivors’ return. Rivers was reunited with his family. His mother Bernice had gotten the word that he was missing the night of the bombing. Later, Rivers was brought to Camp Lejeune to recuperate further in the newly-built Naval Hospital. Six months later, he finished his enlistment and was honorably discharged. Rivers didn’t return to Camp Lejeune until Oct. 23, 1997, for the annual memorial ceremony. In 1997, when Rivers attended the Beirut Memorial ceremony, he was understandably very emotional. As he read the names on the wall, the memories flooded back to him. He attended the ceremony again in 1998. Both trips help set in motion his efforts to finally deal with the loss of so many of his friends. “I try not to feel so terrible,” Rivers said. “I take solace in the fact that the brothers would have wanted me to succeed.” 30TH BEIRUT MEMORIAL|31


ECHOES FROM BEIRUT Ret. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Randy Gaddo

W

STORY BY DONNA MILES, AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE

atching TV coverage of Marines from their former unit helping Americans leave Beirut churns up a host of emotions for former Marines who served there when a barracks was bombed in October 1983. Randy Gaddo was a Marine staff sergeant with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit serving in Lebanon when a terrorist attack in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 1983, claimed the lives of 241 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers. Gaddo, 31 at the time, was a photojournalist from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., attached to the 24th MEU for the peacekeeping mission in Beirut. He had awakened early to process some film in a makeshift photo lab he’d set up on the third floor

32 | 30TH BEIRUT MEMORIAL

of the barracks building. After that, Gaddo had planned to join other Marines in laying plastic sheets and sandbags over a bunker to prepare it for the upcoming rainy season. But before tackling the day’s work, he headed to the command operations center in a tent about 250 yards away from the barracks to grab a cup of coffee. He figures it was that decision that ultimately saved his life. “Another three minutes and I would have been in the (barracks) building,” he said. From the command tent, Gaddo heard M-16 rifle fire, then a blast that threw him back six feet from where he was standing. “I could feel my face being pushed back as the shock wave approached,” he said. Dazed, Gaddo looked over the building that stood between him and the barracks building and saw a big mushroom cloud rising from the area. The leaves had been blown off all the trees. Gaddo realized that he could see the air traffic control tower of Beirut International Airport — a landmark the barracks building should have

blocked from his vantage point. “What had normally been a four-story building was down to a story and a half of rubble,” he recalled. “The dust was all still rising and it started to all become clear.” Gaddo and his fellow Marines sprung into action, grabbing cots and litters and running toward the building to search for survivors. They dodged incoming sniper fire and worked amid the fires throughout the area, some sparked by exploding ammunition that had been in the barracks building. “There was a lot of chaos. We were all in shock,” he said. The rescuers struggled to get a grip on their emotions: anger at their attackers, sadness for those lost, and for some, guilt that their lives had been spared when others’ had not. Gaddo and fellow veterans continue to remember those Marines through the Beirut Veterans of America, a group dedicated to ensuring that service members killed in Beirut aren’t forgotten.


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30TH BEIRUT MEMORIAL|33


thank you CJ’s Coins Corner Jeweler Davis Associates Company Don Williamson Nissan Duke Energy Friendly Caregivers Gary’s Auto Sales JOEMC Lejeune Honda Marine Federal Credit Union Montford Point Marines National Dodge Onwasa Pioneer Military Lending Royal Valley Mobile Home Park The Safe House Southwest Plantation Triangle Motor Inn Webster University Walmart 34 | 30th Beirut memorial


BEIRUT

30 YEaRs

REMEMBRaNCE

THEY CaME IN PEaCE...

Please take a moment and reflect upon the sacrifices of the Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers who gave their lives for our country in the early morning of October 23, 1983. You are forever in our hearts.

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30th Anniversary of Beirut