JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
In commemoration of the Marines, sailors and soldiers who lost their lives at the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, the 24th annual Beirut Memorial Observance Ceremony was held in the Lejeune Memorial Gardens at the Beirut Memorial, Jacksonville, N.C., Oct. 23.
The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, received orders to Beirut, Lebanon to serve as a peacekeeping force in the conflict between warring Muslim and Christian factions March 24, 1983.
Seven months later on the morning of Oct. 23, the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiments Headquarters building was attacked by a non-Lebanese, terrorist-driven vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
The explosion collapsed the building where 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers lost their lives, most of whom were Jacksonville residents.
To honor these neighbors, friends, families and members of the community, the City of Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission planted memorial trees on Lejeune Boulevard. Later in 1986, the first Beirut Memorial ceremony was held, beginning the city and the base’s oath to ‘never forget.’
Retired Master Sgt. Fernando Schiefelbein, action officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, said that since 2000, he began working in conjunction with the city of Jacksonville to plan the Beirut Memorial ceremony.
“It’s a team effort,” said Schiefelbein. “We try to (assign Marines) who are in the 8th Marine Regiment family, that’s very important. They don’t just come from anywhere.”
Mayor Sammy Phillips, mayor of the City of Jacksonville, spoke of the sacrifice those service members gave in the name of freedom.
“We celebrate in their sacrifice, the sacrifice that these brave men gave for this country for the advance of this freedom, which also gave a lasting legacy of community of the city of Jacksonville and our military neighbors,” said Phillips.
Phillips added that the spirit of remembering will be carried on, along with the memories and compassion for the families that were left behind.
“The heroes of today are the families that we leave behind,” said Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Command. “It’s not us in uniform. For those of you who are left behind, and lost a loved one in Beirut, I want you to know that they have not died in vain. Marines are the friendliest people on this Earth. We are the first ones to lend a helping hand to those countries who are in need: Haiti, Pakistan and New Orleans. But if you cross a United States Marine, you will be met with a clenched fist. We will never forgive the cowards who took the lives of our Marines, sailors, soldiers and some Lebanese in Beirut, Lebanon. Yes, we were bloodied there but we never bowed and we’ll never take a knee to cowards.”
Hejlik shared a poem with the audience, titled “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak,” by American poet and writer Archibald MacLeish.
“I feel for the families who lost someone (in the Beirut bombing), and as a Marine and a great admirer of the Navy, I’m here for them,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Emmett Salas, who served in Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Operation Desert Storm. “As I get older I get more sentimental. I just love watching these guys get together and spend time together. We’re here to let the (service members) know that when they go to combat and come back, we won’t forget about them. That’s what happened in Vietnam. We want to make sure that these young Marines and sailors know that we support them, we love them and we thank them for their service.”
Another attendee of the event, Evi Cox-Jordan, said that her late husband was not killed in the Beirut bombing, but at Checkpoint 76, near the Beirut Airport, with several other service members in a three and a half hour firefight.
“We need to continue remembering,” said Cox-Jordan. “It really touched my heart again. So many people think we were defeated, but we were not. It’s still very hard (to cope). You learn to deal with it but you never forget. You go through so much anger and so much frustration and it’s hard to understand the ‘duty’ as a Marine Corps wife. Even though you know you’re committed to that duty, you’re also committed to your family. It takes time to heal from that.”
A first time visitor of the memorial, Philippine Air Force Captain Demetrio Ferrer, said he and his wife were honored to have been invited to witness the ceremony.
“We are glad to witness this momentous occasion with the relatives and loved ones of our departed comrades in arms,” said Ferrer.
Ferrer added that he is involved in anti-terrorism operations in his own country, the southern Philippines. He said that has the same feelings as the families at the memorial because they’re are all fighting for peace in their own ways; not only in the nation but worldwide.
“It’s a sacrifice for both the family and the service members,” said Ferrer. “We are still continuing to fight for peace.”
Retired Maj. Robert T. Jordan, founding president of Beirut Veterans of America and senior faculty instructor at the Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Md., said he was the Department of Defense spokesman in Beirut during the bombing.
“I can remember that morning, looking at the disaster that lay in front us and asking God, ‘Why?’” Jordan said. “No answer was forthcoming at that time. Then I remember a book I had read that said ‘You can’t win against terrorists if you avoid the result. The way you turn terror against the terrorist is you have to rub the public’s face in the inhumanity and agony that they have created.”
Jordan added that the way to combat terrorism is to show terrorists that the individuals they have targeted are not intimidated but resilient; to show the first responders’ heroic effort to recover from the attack and to show the sadness that the victims have.
“I decided that what I needed to do that day was to take the media around and let them photograph and let them see the inhumane act but also how many live, well and confident Marines, sailors and soldiers were there responding, showing that it was not a defeat for us,” said Jordan. “We will never be intimated or subjugated. We love freedom and because we love freedom, we will resist them until they can no longer hurt us. This will live on in the history of the United States of America. Its apart of the fabric of freedom that these men and women died for.”
Staff Sgt. Joshua Grayek, platoon sergeant with 2nd battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, said that when tragic events like this happen, whether in peacetime or in war, leadership plays a key role.
“More or less, turn your head to the sound of the guns and attack, but from there, it’s all about leadership,” said Grayek. “It’s taking care of the guys to your left and right, making sure they’re not going to be harmed more than they have already and just continuing the fight from there.”
Grayek was the staff noncommissioned officer of the rifle detail and color guard and said that he and his Marines were honored to be part of the ceremony.
Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune, said this was his first Beirut Memorial ceremony and that remembering is one of the key factors in Marine Corps tradition.
“You don’t forget who has gone before you because that’s our legacy and a strong part of our ethos” said Lecce. “This is an absolutely necessary and wonderful, solemn ceremony.”