Marine recalls horror of bombing

14 Feb 2001 | Cpl. Mike Vrabel

"Two hundred forty-one - I repeat; two hundred forty-one Marines dead."
Master Sgt. John Wayne Nash uses this message to open his professional military education (PME), but this is more than a simple attention-grabber - and much more than an ordinary PME.

The communications platoon of the 2d Force Service Support Group had their attention grabbed and held recently during Nash's PME on the 1983 catastrophe in Beirut. Nash offered the Marines a unique point of view of the bombing which took those 241 lives -- first hand.

Nash deployed early in his enlistment with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit. At the time, the Pontiac, Mich., Marine welcomed the challenge of deploying to the civil war-torn Lebanon.

"I had never heard of the place," Nash explained during the class. "I just wanted to go."

After landing in Lebanon during an unopposed amphibious landing, Nash shacked up in the same concrete building as the rest of the MAU. This nondescript, windowless building was one of the few left standing from the civil war. This building, although devoid of running water, electricity and other amenities, served as the Marines' home for more than a year.

"Our mission was to help the country get on it's feet," said Nash, who has given this class more than 60 times to groups throughout the Marine Corps.

Sundays provided a reprieve for the deployed warriors. According to Nash, it was the one day Marines received hot chow. October 23, however, would prove to be one Sunday those who survived and survivors of those who perished would never forget.

A suicide bomber, laughing behind the wheel of a large truck armed with a massive amount of plastic explosives, drove through a maze of barricades, crashing into the concrete structure. In an instant, the building containing some Marines sleeping peacefully and some carrying out their Sunday morning routines, was transformed from home to "the few, the proud," into a pile of concrete, bodies and chaos.

For Nash, who was just waking up on the first floor when the explosion took and altered lives, the sound stands out in his mind.

"Nothing I can say can explain how loud it was," Nash told his audience.

Nash survived the blast. As one of few left alive, his mission immediately changed to helping find and evacuate bodies of his friends and fellow warriors.

This experience, Nash says, will haunt him for the rest of his life.
"It's a forever nightmare."

More than 18 years later Nash is still in the Marine Corps, fueled by his drive to educate today's Marines about his experiences in Beirut.

"I am trying to pass the history; pass the tradition. I don't want these Marines to think it can't happen to them. It can."

For the Marines attending the PME, listening to Nash's recount of tragedy proved to be an eye-opener.

"I think more people need to hear his story," said Cpl. Mary Strother, a network technician from Austin, Texas.

Operations clerk Pfc. Millard Jones agrees.
"Hearing the personal view gets the message across better," said Jones, from Monroe, La. "Master Sergeant Nash is one of the Marines I try to emulate.

Nash recommends Marines visit the Beirut Memorial, located in front of Camp Johnson, to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.

"They should never be forgotten," said Nash.