MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
23 August 1984: The last Marines to serve peace-keeping duty in Lebanon arrived home. The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit arrived off the coast of Lebanon on 9 April to relieve Marines of the 22nd MAU who were guarding the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. The 24th MAU left Beirut on 31 July, marking the last presence of U.S. combat troops in Beirut since Marines entered almost two years earlier.
This week in history (Aug. 16 – 23)
Almost everyone knows about the Beirut terrorist attack that took place in 1983. Not everyone however, knows why the Marines were there in the first place or what events led up to the bombing that killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers.
Following the creation of Israel following World War II, displaced Palestinians almost immediately began attacking Israeli border towns and began working to overthrow Israeli-sympathetic governments in the area.
Tensions in the region exploded however when the Lebanese Civil War began in 1975. This was followed by the Israeli invasion into Lebanon to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1982. According to Israel, the invasion was in response to an assassination attempt on one their ambassadors.
Differing accounts of who started the shooting exist, but the key fact is that war had begun again in the Middle East and the world community felt it had to help stop it.
The United States, France, England and Italy formed the Multinational Force in Lebanon following the negotiated withdrawal of PLO forces from Beirut to Tripoli. The MNF’s mission was to facilitate the withdrawal and provide a peacekeeping force in the region to maintain stability.
Enter the Marines. 1,400 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment landed and formed a headquarters at the Beirut International Airport. According to most reports, the MNF forces were very successful for the first year in country. However, this perception begin to change following a suicide-bombing attack on the U.S. Embassy in West Beirut that killed 63 people and marked the beginning of an uptake in violence against peacekeeping forces in the area.
Following that attack, Israeli forces agreed to eventually leave Beirut. This was followed by skirmishes between the Marines and local militias, further degrading the situation for both peace negotiations and the MNF.
This set the stage for the barracks bombing that would take place Oct. 23, 1983. According to most accounts, at around 6:20 a.m., a yellow truck loaded with TNT drove through the defenses and exploded in the barracks building, collapsing most of the four story building and killing or maiming more than 300 American service members. Immediately following the attack, another suicide truck bomb exploded in the nearby barracks of the French forces, killing 58 and wounding 15.
To this day, it remains the deadliest post-World War II attack on American forces overseas.
Due to political concerns, no major counter-offensive was ever waged and debate still rages over who was behind the attack. The Marines were quickly evacuated off shore and out of range of further attack before arriving home Aug. 23, 1984.