MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- “Most of these men were from Camp Lejeune and were the friends and neighbors of the citizens of Jacksonville and Onslow County. We would like to thank you for attending this our 23rd annual observance to remember and honor those American service men who lost their lives in the cause of peace,” said Abe Rosen of the Beirut Memorial Advisory Board.
Civilians and service members gathered together Oct. 23 at the Beirut Memorial in front of Camp Johnson to pay tribute to those who “Came in Peace.” This year’s guest speaker at the observance ceremony was General Paul X. Kelley, 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“The enormity of the national tragedy did not have its fullest impact until I arrived in Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany the next evening. Upon departing my aircraft, the base commander told me that an Air Force C-141 had arrived shortly before from Beirut with 144 caskets aboard. I asked if I could go to pay my respects to our fallen comrades but I was not prepared by any stretch of the imagination for the flood of emotion which over came me. For I have never seen before and, lord willing, I will never seen again an aircraft as large as a C-141 filled to capacity with caskets. Caskets of those Marines, sailors and soldiers, who had been so very much alive and full of youth and vitality during my visit to Beirut several weeks earlier”, said Kelley.
In the early morning of Oct. 23, 1983, a terrorist-driven truck loaded with explosives, drove into and destroyed 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment’s headquarters building. The resulting explosion and the collapse of the building killed 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers.
Since the memorial’s commission in 1986, an annual observance has been held for all who wish to participate.
“We as a city want you to know that we stand with you, we respect their sacrifice and that we will always be here. We’ll always be in remembrance of that day that took so many young lives,” said Jan B. Slagle, Jacksonville’s mayor. “We will never ever forget your loved ones; we will never forget their sacrifice and your sacrifice and your pain.”
Following remarks, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Dickerson, command general of Marine Corps Installations East, Col. Adele E. Hodges, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Col. Darrell L. Thacker, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station New River, and Col. David H. Berger, commanding officer of Eight Marine Regiment, participated in a ceremonial lying of wreaths at the foot of the monument to commemorate those Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“Marines and the families of families will never forget this tragic loss that has sprung a special relationship, one which will always endure the test of time. A relationship which will forever have as its reminder this monument to our fallen commands,” said Kelley. “They were asked by their country to find peace in a country ripped apart by conflict they did the task they were asked to do and in doing so they gave us their tomorrows so that we could have our todays.”
Another strong theme expressed was one of the Beirut tie to the current Global War on Terrorism.
“Until Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are held responsible and accountable their carnage and mayhem is going to grow in both scope and magnitude. What happened in Beirut 23 years ago was the beginning of our current GWOT and has become the major challenge of our time in winning that war,” said Timothy Geraghty, a retired Marine and former commander of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit stationed at the Beirut Airport during the bombing.
The ceremony concluded with friends and family members of the Beirut tragedy being allowed time to leave photos and say some private words in remembrance of that infamous day.