Skip to comments.Families remember, honor Marines of deadly Beirut bombing
Posted on 10/26/2005 6:07:22 PM PDT by SandRat
ARLINGTON, Va. (Oct. 23, 2005) -- Marines and family members gathered under sunny skies Sunday at the Arlington National Cemetery to remember service members killed in a terrorist attack at a Marine barracks in Lebanon 22 years ago.
The somber ceremony took place where 21 of the 241 servicemembers killed were laid to rest. A memorial stone marking the site sits alongside a Lebanese cedar symbolizing the nation in which they died.
The Marines of First Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment were stationed in Beirut, as part of an international peacekeeping force in a nation torn by war. On Oct. 23, 1983 at 6:22 a.m., a large Mercedes delivery truck drove to the Beirut International Airport where their barracks was located. The driver of the truck turned onto an access road that led to the compound. The vehicle rushed through a barbed-wire fence, passed through two sentry posts, crashed through the gate and finally, it slammed into the lobby of the barracks.
After the impact, the terrorist detonated the 19-ton delivery truck, laden with explosives. The blast had a power equal to more than 12,000 pounds of TNT. The four-story compound collapsed, crushing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers to death while they slept. Sixty Americans were injured in the explosion.
According to a federal court order issued in a 2003 case brought by relatives of the victims, the resulting explosion was the largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been detonated on the face of the Earth.
Sundays remembrance began with words from the Master of Ceremonies retired Navy captain Capt. William Perry.
To those of you who serve, and to those of you who have served, thank you very much, Perry said.
He comforted the families in attendance that Americans have not forgotten that fateful day. Weve not stopped hurting because you hurt, said Perry to the victims families, and weve not stopped praying for you.
Ambassador Lowell Bruce Laingen, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Col. Stephen Mikolaski, Headquarters Marine Corps, offered their condolences, reminding them that their children had not died in vain. Mikolaski was a young lieutenant stationed in Beirut at the time of the bombing.
Students from Mt. Vernon High Schools Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in Alexandria, Va., also honored the fallen Marines. They marched onto the gravesite where 21 of the victims were laid to rest. They placed a rose on each gravestone and immediately thereafter, saluted to show respect for those whose lives were taken away.
A wreath laying followed in which a Marine lance corporal in his dress blue uniform marched slowly to the memorial stone. He placed it alongside the stone and the Lebanese cedar. Laingen and Mikolaski stood in a moment of silence in front of the wreath.
In the background, a Marine bugler stood tall while playing Taps.
The annual tribute was organized by the White House Commission on Remembrance, an organization dedicated to remembering servicemembers who have died in war or acts of terrorism.
One of those Marines was a former student of mine. A really good guy whose father has never recovered from his son's death. The tragedy, like a stone thrown into the water, has reverberations to many others. May they all RIP.
They are not forgotten.
I am sorry folks. I thought I bleeped out all the swear words, but a few got through. My apologies.
You gave us a real feel for a special man. We will overlook the marine language.
Thanks. I felt pretty bad about posting that language. I put in a request to a moderator to edit it for me.
I cut and pasted it from an essay I wrote on this and some of my other experiences in the USN, and thought I had already edited it.
It seems strange that I would include that language in tribute to a man I obviously respect, because many people view foul language as a weakness in character. Having spent some time around many people who use foul language, I do not think that is always the case, especially not in this case.
When I think of a US Marine, this is the man that is in my mind. Not Lou Gossett or some Hollywood thing, but Sgt. Major Douglass.
It is a day I remember, and grieve for all those men whose lives were snuffed out in the prime of their lives. I also remember it because of connection (although remote) I had with one of those men who was killed that day.
When I was a Petty Officer on the USS Kennedy in the 70's, there was a black Marine Master Sargeant in charge of the Marine detachment on the ship. He was one of the most physically imposing men I had ever seen. Must have been 6'3", all muscle, ramrod straight with a very intense glare. Downright scary looking guy.
One night, while on the dock in Naples trying to get on a liberty launch back out to the ship, it was pouring rain and the water was rough. They had to stop the boats for a period of time.
Now, here it is, 0200, raining, hundreds of men drunk on Peroni beer, and things started getting disorderly. Fights broke out, and it was bordering on turning into complete chaos. One scene out of this, there was some drunk guy who had one of those stanchions you pass a rope through to set up lines of people, well he had that stanchion and was swinging it all around him, while a whole group of Shore Patrol guys had him surrounded trying to grab him, but none of them dared get close enough, because the guy was drunk and unruly enough to really brain them with this thing he was swinging.
Guys who were still standing line were cheering the guy on, yelling out things like "**** THE SHORE PATROL...nail one of em...hit em..."; And so on. It was unreal and nearly completely out of control.
Out of nowhere, this Master Sargeant dressed in his civvies just wades right through the circle of Shore Patrol up to this guy with the swinging stanchion, and decks him. I mean, literally, nails the guy in the face, and he goes down like a ton of rocks.
The Marine then turns to this mob of hundreds of guys and bellows at the top of his lungs: "YOU MEN SHUT UP!"
Complete and total silence...I swear you could have heard a pin drop! One of the most amazing things I had ever seen in my life.
Later that same cruise, we pulled into Alexandria, Egypt. We were the first US Carrier to visit there in many years, just after the peace accord was signed between Israel and Egypt. Before we pulled in, the word went out that the Embassy Marines had invited the ships company to a party at their compound. I remember thinking "How the hell are they going to do that? There are 5000 men on this ship..." But when I went ashore, we had a cab (actually, a hand drawn buggy) take us to the compound. Sure enough, when we got there, there was a major party in progress. The Embassy Marines occupied a walled compound, probably 2-4 acres with a 10 foot high stone/concrete wall all the way around it. And it was a wild party. (Times were quite different back then...no ID's were checked, nobody patted down entering, etc.) Needless to say, I got quite shitfaced. People were peeing and puking in the sinks, passed out on the ground, open bar by the US Marines...it was great.
So, here I am, in this little dinky one-toilet bathroom, pretty smashed, taking a leak, and I hear someone getting his butt reamed out just outside the little shuttered window right above the toilet I am emptying my bladder into. I don't recall EXACTLY what was being said, but it was impressive and a SEVERE dressing down; things like "You aren't FIT to wear the uniform you piece of ****! Dumb ******* ***HOLES like you make all of us look bad...if you had anything other than camel s*** inside that ****** ****HEAD of yours..." and so on. Being three sheets to the wind and naturally curious, I reached out and opened the little shutter to get a better look and listen at this impressively swear worded dressing down. So I opened the shutter while my bladder emptied, and less than two feet away this big, black head swivelled towards me and fixed me with two pissed off WHITE eyes. It was the Master Sargeant from the USS Kennedy.
And he said to me "Unless you want me to come in there and rip your ******* head off and SHOVE IT UP YOUR ***, close the window and mind your OWN ******* BUSINESS."
I shut the window pretty quick, zipped and left.
Four years after I left the Navy, the barracks in Beirut was bombed by a truck bomb. Several days after the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beruit, the Boston Globe had an article about one of the Marines killed (who was a Massachusetts native), and when I read the article, I saw the face of that Marine Sargeant. It completely sent shivers down my spine...a face like that you never forget. I didn't know his name at the time, but I sure knew that face. When I read through his bio, sure enough, he had been in charge of the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Kennedy while I was on it...I did some research today online, looking through the archives of the Boston Globe, and his name was SGTMAJ Frederick B. Douglass
This snippet from that article confirmed who he was:
"Douglass became a sergeant major in 1977 while serving aboard the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. It is the Marines highest enlisted rank. His friends said it was the right rank for Frederick B. Douglass."
The guy scared the hell out of me...but I am glad we have men who can do that. I want our US Marines full of those men. I have no idea what he was like personally, but professionally, he was the epitome of a Marine, for a sailor, at least. Here is the only picture I found of him, looks like it might have been taken while he was in Vietnam...
SGTMAJ Douglass was the senior USMC enlisted man killed that day.
May he rest in Peace, and God Bless those men who gave their lives on that day, and the US Marines.
Thanks for your memories of a good Marine and a good man. I knew SgtMaj Douglass at Camp Lejeune and in Beirut, and remember him well and fondly. I rarely saw LtCol Gerlach without SgtMaj Douglass, as they made their regular rounds around the BLT together. SgtMaj Douglass loved his enlisted Marines and looked out for them, and they loved him. The big guy from South Weymouth had a big heart and courage to match, and he is remembered as a giant of a man. Semper Fidelis...
Thank you for your service...I appreciate the memory you have. I am not surprised. His men under him held him in evident respect, and it was not driven by fear (to my sailor's eye...:)
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