Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing, A Forgotten Tragedy 38-Years Later

The history of the United States Marines in Beirut from 1982 to 1984, is still a period of time few Americans are familiar with if they are even aware of our presence there at the time. It was an era following the Vietnam War when politicians were worried about getting involved in another Vietnam and the Marines were not allowed to carry loaded weapons when they first arrived. This is one reason why the truck loaded with explosives was able to get past the Marine Sentry on duty the morning of October 23, 1983, without being shot at… They did not have a loaded weapon. Sadly, this day is rarely recognized by the mainstream media anymore… America should always remember this day… It’s the day the war on terror really began…

This is what happened…

At approximately 06:22 on October 23, 1983, a 19-ton yellow Mercedes-Benz truck drove to the Beirut International Airport, where the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was deployed. The 1st Battalion 8th Marines Battalion Landing Team was a subordinate element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit. The truck was not the water truck they had been expecting. Instead, it was a hijacked truck carrying explosives. The driver turned his truck onto an access road leading to the compound, then drove into and circled the parking lot. He then accelerated, crashing through a 5-foot-high barrier of concertina wire separating the parking lot from the building. The truck then passed between two sentry posts and through an open vehicle gate in the perimeter fence, crashed through a guard shack in front of the building, and smashed into the lobby of the building serving as the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines.

The sentries at the gate were operating under rules of engagement, which made it impossible to respond quickly to the truck. Sentries were ordered to keep their weapons unloaded with no magazine inserted or round in the chamber. Only one sentry, LCpl Eddie DiFranco, was able to load and chamber a round. However, by that time the truck was already crashing into the building’s entryway.

The suicide bomber, an Iranian national named Ismail Ascari, detonated his explosives, which were later estimated to be equivalent to approximately 21,000 pounds of TNT.

Less than ten minutes later, a similar attack occurred against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, a few miles away in the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. As the suicide bomber drove his pickup truck toward the “Drakkar” building, French paratroopers began shooting at the truck and its driver. It is believed that the driver was killed and the truck was immobilized and rolled to stop about fifteen yards from the building. A few moments passed before the truck exploded, bringing down the nine-story building and killing 58 French paratroopers. It is believed that this bomb was detonated by remote control and that, though similarly constructed, it was smaller than and slightly less than half as powerful as the one used against the Marines at the Beirut International Airport. It was France’s worst military loss since the end of the Algerian War in 1962.

Unlike America’s Warriors from past and present conflicts, those we lost as a result of this horrific incident 38 years ago have gone largely without the support and recognition they earned and rightly deserve. There was no Wounded Warrior Project for them or Homes for our Troops charity to build accessible homes for those left handicapped. These brave men have suffered and dealt with the results of this tragedy silently and with the support of others that were there or serving at the time.

The American public may have largely ignored those who served in Beirut from 1982 to 1984, but those who survived have not forgotten their fallen brethren, nor have they forgotten the families of their fallen brethren. The ceremony held on their 30th anniversary was packed with mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and children of those lost that day. They have been welcomed into and loved by the Marine family and many of the children that were never fortunate enough to meet their fathers, have made connections with Marines that served with them and are blessed with that connection.

I have never met a Marine that was serving on October 23, 1983, that does not remember the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut. Something like that has an impact on everyone. It’s the sort of thing that leaves everyone wondering why they were not there. It’s the sort of thing that leaves those who were there wondering why they survived… It’s the sort of thing that should remind everyone that we have an obligation to our nation’s veterans, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, to live our lives to the fullest every single day we wake with a breath left in us

To all of my fellow Marines who survived their tour of duty in Beirut, I thank you for your sacrifice and have prayed and will continue to pray daily for your happiness and success… To those of you who did not serve in Beirut, who did not serve in the military… I hope you learned something from this brief piece on the Marines in Beirut and would ask that you share it with your fellow Americans… We must never forget the sacrifice our nation’s warriors make on America’s behalf and we must never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the future of America.

God and the American veteran have given you a great day… Please, do something great with it!

You can see a list of those we lost on this tragic day here: http://www.beirut-memorial.org/memory/brtnames.html

Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing

The Following Is A Chronological Overview of America’s Role In Beirut

On June 06, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to create a buffer zone between the PLO and Syrian forces. The invasion was supported by the United States. On August 23, 1982, Bachir Gemayel was elected to be the Lebanese President. On August 25, 1982, a Multinational Force consisting of French, Italian, and 800 U.S. Marines of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit went ashore in Beirut to oversee the evacuation of PLO guerrillas. On September 10, 1982, after the PLO retreated from Beirut under the protection of the Multinational Peace Keeping Force, President Reagan ordered the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit out of Beirut.

On September 14, 1982, Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel was assassinated. Shortly after his assassination, hundreds of Palestinian refugees were murdered. The course of events resulted in President Ronald Reagan redeploying the Multinational Force with France and Italy and on September 29, 2012, about 1,200 Marines from the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit entered Beirut again.

The stated mission of the Marines in Beirut was to help the new Lebanese government and army with stability… In other words, they were sent there to maintain peace… This is not something Marines are trained to do… In fact, the mission of a Marine Rifle Squad is to “Seek out, close with, and destroy the enemy… By any means necessary!” They are fighters… They are killers… They are warriors… They are the world’s finest fighting force! Nowhere in Marine Corps history or doctrine will you find “Peacekeeper” as a role for Marines.

It didn’t take long for the Marines to suffer their first casualties as “Peacekeepers.” On September 30, 1982, there was one Marine killed in action and three Marines wounded in action while clearing unexploded ordinance from the vicinity of Beirut International Airport.

Some other casualties and dates of interest in addition to those from the bombing of the Marine Barracks on October 23, 1983, occurred on the following dates:

On March 16, 1983, five Marines were wounded in action in the first direct attack on American peacekeeping troops. An Islamic fundamentalist group claimed responsibility.

On April 18, 1983, a large car bomb exploded at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, causing massive structural damage and killing 61, including 17 Americans. More than 100 were injured. Islamic fundamentalists again claim responsibility.

On July 22, 1983, two Marines and one sailor were wounded in action by shell fragments during the shelling of the Beirut International Airport. This was part of a general pattern of increasing indirect fire against the Lebanese Army, the airport, and the multinational force.

On August 10, 1983, About 27 artillery and mortar rounds were fired by Druze militia from the high ground east of Beirut into Beirut International Airport, resulting in one Marine wounded in action. Rockets also hit the Defense Ministry and the Presidential Palace. Three Cabinet ministers were kidnapped by the Druze.

On August 28, 1983, A combat outpost manned by 30 Marines and Lebanese Army troops, east of Beirut International Airport, came under fire from semiautomatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Marines return fire for the first time, with rifles and M-60 machine guns. There were no friendly casualties, after a 90-minute firefight.

On August 29, 1983, a heavy rocket, mortar, and artillery attack on the 24th MAU positions on the eastern side of Beirut International Airport resulted in two Marines killed in action and 14 Marines wounded in action. The Marines retaliated with 155mm artillery.

On September 06, 1983, a rocket attack on Beirut International Airport from Druze positions in the Shouf mountains, resulted in two Marines being killed, and two Marines wounded.

On September 08, 1983, the Frigate USS Bowen (FF-1079) fired her 5-inch guns in the first American use of naval gunfire support, silencing a Druze militia battery that had shelled Beirut International Airport. The Marines also responded with 155mm artillery fire.

On September 20, 1983, the residence of the U.S. ambassador was shelled and the USS John Rodgers and USS Virginia responded.

On September 21, 1983, the USS John Rodgers and USS Arthur Radford (DD-968) responded to the shelling of Marines at the Beirut International Airport.

On September 26, 1983, a cease-fire announced by Saudi Arabian and Syrian officials in Damascus, supported by Druze, went into effect at 0600. Talks begin on the formation of a new coalition government for Lebanon. There have been five Marines killed and 49 wounded to date.

On October 05, 1983, two Marine helicopters were hit by ground fire.

On October 08, 1983, two Marines were wounded by sniper fire.

On October 13, 1983, one Marine was wounded by grenade fragments.

On October 14, 1983, there was one Marine killed, and three wounded by sniper fire. Marine sharpshooters responded, setting off a three-hour firefight. The ceasefire of 26 September was allegedly still in place.

On October 15, 1983, Marine sharpshooters killed four enemy snipers.

On October 16, 1983, there was one Marine killed and five wounded by sniper fire.

On October 19, 1983, there were four Marines wounded when an attempt to ambush a Marine convoy with a car bomb was thwarted.

On October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber with a truck loaded with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of explosives destroyed the headquarters building of BLT 1/8 at Beirut International Airport. An almost simultaneous suicide attack destroyed a building occupied by French paratroopers. The U.S. casualties totaled: 241 killed, and 70 wounded. The French casualties totaled: 58 killed.

On November 19, 1983, The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was relieved by the 22d Marine Amphibious, which had participated in the October 25th to November 2nd Grenada intervention, while on their way to the Mediterranean.

On November 22, 1983, United States Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, stated that the October 23rd suicide attack on the Marine Barracks was carried out by Iranians with the “sponsorship, knowledge, and authority of the Syrian government.”

On December 04, 1983, Marines at the Beirut International Airport came under heavy fire from gun positions in Syrian-held territory. There were eight Marines killed and two Marines wounded. Naval gunfire was returned in retaliation. Earlier in the day, a 29-plane raid was conducted on Syrian antiaircraft positions in the mountains east of Beirut, in retaliation for Syrian fire directed at American aerial reconnaissance missions. Two U.S. aircraft are downed in this first combat mission over Lebanon.

On January 08, 1984, a Marine was killed by unidentified assailants as he exited a helicopter at a landing zone on the edge of downtown Beirut. The helicopter returned fire with its machine guns and flew to safety.

On January 13, 1984, Marines at the Beirut International Airport, fought a 30-minute battle with gunmen firing from a building east of their perimeter.

On January 15, 1984, Druze gunners closed Beirut International Airport for three hours with intense 23mm fire on Marine positions east and southeast of the airport. U.S. forces responded with small arms fire, mortars, rockets, tank fire, and naval gunfire from the battleship USS New Jersey and destroyer USS Tattnall. There were no U.S. casualties during this exchange of fire.

On February 06, 1984, Druze and Moslem militiamen seized much of Beirut in street fighting and demanded the resignation of Gemayel.

On February 07, 1984, President Reagan announced his decision to redeploy Marines from the Beirut International Airport to ships offshore, leaving a residual force behind to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests.

On February 08, 1984, The USS New Jersey bombarded Druze and Syrian gun positions as part of the heaviest naval gunfire support since the arrival of the Marines in 1982.

From February 10th to 11th 1984, American civilians and other foreign nationals were evacuated from Beirut by helicopter.

On February 21, 1984, Marines began their redeployment to ships of the Sixth Fleet offshore. About 150 Marines departed in the first increment.

On February 26, 1984, Redeployment of the 22d Marine Amphibious Unit to offshore ships was completed.

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