33rd annual ceremony remembers Beirut peace keepers

27 Oct 2016 | Pfc. Juan Madrigal Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

The 33rd Annual Beirut Memorial Ceremony was held in the Lejeune Memorial Gardens Oct. 23. Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment honored the fallen Marines by participating in the ceremony.

Marines from the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit received orders to support the locals in Beirut, Lebanon, March 24, 1983. On Oct. 23, 1983 a terrorist-driven truck filled with compressed gas-enhanced explosives ran into the side of the Marine barracks instantly killing 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers in the largest non-nuclear explosion since WWII.

Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment were in Beirut on deployment and still honor the fallen to this day. The service members lost that day will be remembered in the hearts and minds of Marines, friends and family.

“It is incredibly important for Marines to remember their history and for the public to get a sense of what it means to serve one’s nation. Prior to September 11th, this was the single largest terrorist attack against the United States. For the Marine Corps, this was the largest loss of life in a single day since Iwo Jima,” said Maj. Gen. Walter L. Miller, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force. “It is always important to honor those Marines that have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend, preserve and extend the freedom we enjoy both here at home and throughout the world.”

Many people lost their brothers, husbands and fathers. Cpl. Edward A. Johnston was the father of a 2-year-old girl, Alicia Shields. She lost him at a young age, but didn’t let it bring her down as she grew up. Shields is now a chief nursing officer at a hospital in northern Arizona. She was the guest speaker for the ceremony and spoke on how to work through the pain of losing a loved one.

“I think it’s very therapeutic for the families and the [veterans] to get together and talk about it. So many of the [veterans] have just bottled it up inside and have never been to a memorial, never talked about it and their insides are just in turmoil,” said Shields. “I think just letting everybody know that we don’t blame anybody [is helpful]. They came home, my dad didn’t. That was all part of God’s master plan and that is the way it was supposed to happen. I’m glad that they’re here and I’m glad that they’re all my uncles.”

Many veterans hesitate to go to the ceremony every year. Joe Thorp is a Beirut veteran and was a Lance Cpl. in 1983. He was reluctant to go to the memorial ceremony in years prior but attended his first ceremony this year.

“I was so afraid I was going to get my heart broken because [people] don’t respect us ,” said Thorp. “I was overwhelmed at the respect and love that they show the Marine Corps, from the general all the way down to the private, everybody showed love for us today.”

The memorial was made to remember and honor the fallen service members as well as give people the opportunity to pay their respects. The wall has a break in it and one side of the break is inscribed with the names of every life lost in the bombing with text on the other side that reads “They Came In Peace”. In the break stands a statue of a Marine, guarding the memory of the service members that were lost on that fateful day.

“To build [the memorial] was a labor of love, and since then we have made sure that we have a service every year. It’s just something that we had to do,” said Abe Rosen, chairman of the Beirut Memorial Advisory Board. “When we started the wall we said we’d never forget and now 33 years later we haven’t forgotten.”