'The burden of the courageous'

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

In the midst of my prefight only a half hour later, general quarters and then flight quarters were sounded and my crew and I were quickly launched off the carrier’s flight deck and directed by the helicopter direction center to proceed to the U.S. Embassy for medevac.

Loaded with wounded embassy staff on makeshift stretchers, I vividly remember the pungent odor of burnt flesh and death permeating our aircraft after we took off from the field expedient landing zone. The LZ had been swept clean and quickly cordoned off on the boulevard next to the East German Embassy adjacent to the remains of the U.S. Embassy.

My squadron mates and I made several runs from the Guadalcanal to the embassy and back to the ship that day. Of course, our role was little compared to those from my sister squadron who six months later performed similar medevac duties for BLT 1/8 to the USS Iwo Jima, LPH-2, after the Marine barracks bombing. 

By that time, I had returned home to the United States to the warm embrace of family and friends and, like most Americans, watched in horror from afar as the Marine barracks bombing events unfolded. We mourned the loss of our brothers in arms, fellow Marines, sailors, and soldiers, and friends from thousands of miles away.

The U.S. Embassy bombing had been forgotten in the midst of the far more horrific Marine barracks bombing. Less than a year later, no longer politically and diplomatically sustainable, the peacekeeping force was folded and the final U.S. Marine was pulled out of Beirut in July, 1984.

But not before a close friend was killed in the death throes of the multinational force. The last Marine killed in Beirut, a Marine’s Marine, a consummate Marine officer, was Capt. Al Butler, who sacrificed his life for America and its ideals in Beirut on Feb. 9, 1984. The COST of peace is the burden of the courageous.

I hesitantly approached the door of his home the day Capt. Butler’s death was reported. What would ... what could ... what should ... I say?  His eldest son, 5 years old then and now a decorated Marine himself, answered the door. “My daddy is dead,” he said looking up at me with tears in his big eyes.

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