MCB CAMP LEJEUNE --
Every year on October 23, veterans, Marines, Sailors and their families have been attending the annual Beirut memorial observance ceremony in person at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The ceremony is held to honor the survivors and the fallen service members who served in Lebanon from 1958 to 1984 and in Grenada.
This year marks the 37th anniversary of the attack and the ceremony will be held virtually due to COVID-19. For the safety and wellbeing of the public and those conducting the ceremony, the memorial site will be closed to the public for the first time.
“We improvise, adapt and overcome,” said Danny Joy, a former dragon gunner with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “It rips our hearts a little bit because our families and friends look forward to this ceremony, but through modern technology we can do this virtually.”
The Beirut tragedy began when the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, stationed on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, received orders to Beirut, Lebanon in support of the request by the Lebanese government to serve as a peacekeeping force in March of 1983. Later that year on October 23rd, a truck loaded with explosives was detonated at the Marine barracks there resulting in the death of 241 service members - 220 Marines, 18 Sailors and three Soldiers.
“We lost a lot of good men, but they will never be forgotten,” said Chuck Gomer, a former rifleman with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “It made us feel good that America was behind us and they were glad we were back home.”
A group of students from Northwoods Park Middle School showed their gratitude by funding and dedicating a tree memorial that featured one tree to honor each service member lost in the attacks on March 24, 1986. Following the tree dedication, MCB Camp Lejeune gave the City of Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission 4.5 acres of visible, publicly accessible land on the corner of Lejeune Boulevard and Montford Landing Road that would become the Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
A broader design was then sought due to an increase of available land. A design competition was held among the graduate students of the School of Design at North Carolina State University, which resulted in the selected design.
The project was funded by contributions from the surrounding community and organizations, and the completed Beirut Memorial was dedicated on October 23, 1986 as a memorial to honor the survivors and the fallen service members who served in Lebanon from 1958 to 1984 and in Grenada.
According to William Chevers, a former combat engineer with Charlie Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, the memorial is not only an incredible remembrance of the service members tragically lost that day, but an outstanding example of a community that came together to pay their respects to the amazing men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“A lot of Marines that were in Beirut chose to move back to Jacksonville, as well as my wife and I,” said Gomer. “I visit the memorial about four to five times a week and I will sit. There was something deep inside us saying we were coming home, and in a sense we did. We came back home.”
The virtual ceremony can be viewed on the Jacksonville, Onslow County, Camp Lejeune, and MCAS New River social media pages or by visiting https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/24897. The live broadcast of the ceremony will be shown at 10:30 AM on October 23rd. Organizers hope to resume a normal observance for the 38th anniversary next year.