'The burden of the courageous'

Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 05:17 PM.

“The cross of peace is the burden of the courageous,” President Amine Gemayel of Lebanon cabled President Reagan on April 18, 1983, shortly after the U.S. Embassy was nearly destroyed by a suicide terrorist and his truck bomb. The bombing killed 63 people, including 17 Americans.

America’s burden — and its courageousness — would be tested again just six months later on Oct. 23, 1983. The U.S. Marine Barracks set up in a large abandoned office building at Beirut International Airport to house Battalion Landing Team 1/8 and its reinforcements, part of the multinational peacekeeping force, was bombed, along with minutes later the barracks housing members of the French 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, also a unit of the peacekeeping force.

Two-hundred and twenty Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers were killed in the Marine Barracks bombing and 58 paratroopers in the French barracks bombing: a total of 299 Americans and French were killed. Another 128 Americans and 15 paratroopers were injured in the attack.

The attacks ultimately led to the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force, in hindsight some argue, wrongly. Because of their success (from the terrorist’s perspective), these attacks are seen by many to be the beginning of the spate of terrorist attacks against America, culminating in 9/11.

But while politicians, diplomats, and historians may debate the cause and effect of such events, there were — and are — smaller and less consequential roles to be played. My part in Beirut in 1983 was one such inconsequential role. Wednesday’s 30th anniversary of the bombings was more personal for me than politics, diplomacy, and history. Though my role was small, these recollections are intended to honor those who gave their last full measure in support and defense of the United States of America 30 years ago.

On April 18, 1983, I was assigned as a Marine helicopter pilot aboard the USS Guadalcanal, LPH-7, just off the coast of Beirut. I had finished noon chow in the officers’ mess and was making my way topside to preflight my aircraft when the 19,000-ton helicopter carrier rumbled and shook as the 1 p.m. terrorist explosion tore through the U.S. Embassy.

That an aircraft carrier at sea miles from the embassy could be moved is testament to the power of the blast. I sometimes wonder whether the ship’s shudder was an anthropomorphic response to this new terrorist tactic that would lead to 9/11.

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