Beirut veterans immortalized for 21st remembrance

25 Oct 2004 | Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio

Families, service members, veterans and respectful citizens attended the remembrance ceremony for the bombing, which sent shockwaves all the way from Beirut, Lebanon to Jacksonville on October 23, 1983. 

Old Glory waved tranquilly in the cool, morning breeze at the Beirut Memorial, where the names of 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who died at the Battalion Landing Team Headquarters Building in Beirut, Lebanon, are immortalized on a wall inscribed with the phrase, "They came in peace."

Visitors quietly proceeded to the bleachers to observe the morning's events.  The silence broke as bikers with military patches on their jackets drove to the ceremony.  Although the riders wore rough-looking black leather vests and chaps, they were dressed in highly pressed white button up shirts underneath.   

The reverend Howard Allred delivered the invocation and the 2d Marine Division band played the Marine Corps Hymn.  The prayer and song conjured up memories of the Marines who served in Lebanon and the value of their duty there.

The Marines were sent there from Camp Lejeune to restore order and stability in that region of strife.  The bombings were an act of terrorism that struck the men as many of them slept. 
Today, the memorial stands as a cement wall, resembling the remnants of the bombed out building they were trapped in after a truck crashed into it with nearly 2,000 pounds of explosives.   

Col. W. A. Meier, Chief of Staff, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune gave the welcome message.
"As we sit here today, I think about where I was when this happened," said Meier.  "From my personal standpoint, I picked up the phone at 5:45 a. m. and turned the television on to see the first pictures of the bombing.  All I saw was smoke in the distance as a result of the bombing. 

"One of my platoon sergeants was buried there under the rubble and every time I drive past this place that goes through my mind.  The events at Beirut served as a lightning rod that galvanized the men and women of this community."

Meier then invited the guest speaker to the podium for his perspective.
Major General D. F. Bice, Inspector General of the Marine Corps gave the address and put the day's events into perspective as the guest speaker. 

"We're here today to honor, remember and celebrate the lives of the brave men who died in Beirut," said Bice.  "These brave Marines, Sailors and Soldiers will forever earn the gratitude and respect of the nation for their selfless service to others . . . I believe that history will record the events of Beirut as the first battlefield in what we call the Global War on Terrorism. 

The Northside High School Concert Choir, all dressed in black mourning dresses and suits, read the poem and sand the song "In Flander's Fields."  This marked the commencement of the wreath placement at the foot of the memorial by Col. C. M. Gurganus, commanding officer, 8th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division and honorary wreath layer.

Riflemen from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines fired their M-16s in a 21-gun salute.  After the shots were fired, a moment of silence ensued before a bugler played taps to end the ceremony.

"We're free today because of the men and women who proudly serve for something greater than themselves," said Bice.  "Thank you for paying tribute to those great men and honoring their sacrifices -- Semper Fidelis."