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Beirut monument recognizes citizen hero

25 Oct 2004 | Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio

A new commemoration site has been dedicated at the Beirut Memorial to Doris Downs, a devoted supporter of veterans in the local community, who died this past June after a battle with cancer.

Downs dedicated the last two decades of her life to the families and veterans of the Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who died at the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983.  Her drive over the years was to bring the community together to immortalize the 241 men, who lost their lives that infamous day.

During the 21st Annual Beirut Memorial Ceremony this past Sunday, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment placed a wreath on an empty bench, reserved for the spirit of Doris Downs. 

Two easels stood with photos of Downs - all of them showing her with a big smile.  A Marine stood guard over the bench as a full Marine Corps Color Guard from the 8th Marines proceeded past at the tune of the 2d Marine Division Band.  A platoon from the regiment offered a 21-gun salute in front of it as well, making the monument an official addition to the Beirut Memorial. 

"My uncle was in the Mediterranean during the Beirut attack," said Lance Cpl. Michael J. Burke, a musician with the Division Band and Westfield, N.J. native.  "It was the powerful story he told me that made me feel so very touched to be able to participate in a ceremony for his friends and comrades.  It hits me straight in the heart."

It touched Downs' heart too.  So much that she remains at the Coastal Carolina Veteran's Cemetery on Rte. 17, very close to the Beirut Memorial.  Her dedication to her projects has surpassed her as she lies at rest there.

Her devotion to the veterans began as she spearheaded a project to plant trees along N. C. Hwy. 24, where many of the Camp Lejeune service members drive on their way to work.  A tree was planted for every man who died, in order to honor his memories.

That project went over so well that it led to the concept of the permanent Memorial that stands on a wooded lot off of N.C. Hwy. 24, at the entrance of Camp Johnson.  She worked from beginning to end in every phase of the project to ensure the memorial served as a physical and spiritual reminder of those lost service members.  

In the end, she was the very person who brought together the communities of Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune.  For the past 14 years, Downs remained an active part of the Beirut Memorial Commission and served as its chair for the entire time.  With that, she also continued on many projects to preserve the natural beauty of the Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune community.

Now, the very woman who venerated the service members who died at Beirut, will herself be remembered as part of their history as her memorial lays safe, under the watchful gaze of a bronze Marine statue at the Monument.