Veterans, Gold Star families, Camp Lejeune Marines, and the City of Jacksonville came together in remembrance.
A round of “ooh-rah’s” rang out following the conclusion of the 33rd Beirut Memorial Observance ceremony held Sunday afternoon at Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville.
Veterans, Gold Star families, Camp Lejeune Marines, and the City of Jacksonville came together in remembrance. Through the emotions, a sense of pride in the Corps and an understanding of the sacrifice paid by 241 service members on Oct. 23, 1983, was evident.
Members of the crowd, estimated at around 800 by Camp Lejeune Public Affairs Officer Nat Fahy, all had different reasons for attending, but above all, they understood the importance of remembering those who died in the tragedy coined the largest non-nuclear explosion on Earth at the time.
Michael Clark, the brother-in-law of fallen Beirut Marine Lance Cpl. James Baynard, said his brother-in-law was like a son to him.
Clark, who has attended 10 of the Beirut Memorial ceremonies, said he traveled from Richmond, Virginia, to be at Sunday’s event.
The ceremony, he said, was extremely important to have as a way to remember the lives lost.
“(There’s) no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s country,” Clark said simply.
Melissa James, retired from the U.S. Army, was in the area for Southwest High School’s reunion and “had to stop” by for the ceremony while she was in Jacksonville. The Sunday event was the first time she’d attended a Beirut ceremony, despite having grown up in the community. She traveled from Dallas, Texas, to be at the ceremony.
“As a child, I remember and realize the sacrifices men and women make,” she said, adding that the ceremony is meaningful to her. “I think it’s wonderful to realize the sacrifice of Jacksonville. The military drives Jacksonville. It’s important to keep their memory alive and help children realize the sacrifices made.”
Dan Jacobs, son of 1st Lt. Joe Jacobs, was 7 at the time of the attack. His father, who survived the bombing, served in Beirut at the time of the blast.
“I think (the ceremonies) are amazing,” he said, adding he’s attended 15 of them. “Because they should never be forgotten.”
Jacobs remembers only bits and pieces from that day and the weeks that followed, although he’s learned more about the events in recent years.
“It comforts me knowing that the men and women who gave their lives that day and who were injured that day are not being forgotten. I mean these people were attacked by cowards while they slept,” Jacobs said. “They had no chance to defend themselves. For them to make sure they are not forgotten is very important to me.”
The Beirut tragedy was one that unified Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville, Fahy said.
“This tragedy brought them closer than they had ever been and the relationship has been rock solid ever since,” he said. “And while it was a shame that it came out of a tragedy, it’s done nothing but positive things for the community in the aftermath. And we’re seeing evidence of it here today, with today’s gathering and the number of people that are here both from the base and the community.”
Alicia Shields, daughter of Cpl. Edward A. Johnston, was the only family member to give a speech during the ceremony. Although only 2 years old that day, the events shaped who she is, Shields said.
“The bombing had a profound impact on my life and in part shaped the woman I am today,” she said in her speech. “Even though I didn’t really get to know my dad, I do know that I’m a lot like him.”
Shields became a registered nurse, in an effort to make her father proud, and is now working toward her doctorate. She described her father as always wanting to be a Marine and loyal to his family.
Shields said she felt “honored and proud” to be a part of the ceremony.
“Our first duty is to remember,” she said, adding that it means a lot to her and her family that Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville hold a ceremony in remembrance each year. “I hope it goes on forever and ever.”
Although she was a toddler when the bombing occurred, Shields has a message for her fellow Gold Star families.
“We have a bond a lot of others don’t understand,” she said. “We’re in this together.”