Marine Museum Keeping Beirut Memories Alive

Marine Museum Keeping Beirut Memories Alive
October 23rd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marine Museum Keeping Beirut Memories Alive

Marine Museum Keeping Beirut Memories Alive
Washington Post
October 23, 2008
Pg. VA3

New Exhibit Marks 25th Anniversary Of Barracks Bombing
By Jennifer Buske, Washington Post Staff Writer
At 6 a.m. on Oct. 23, 1983, the alarm clock for Marine Maj. Robert Jordan began to sound.
It was a Sunday in Beirut, Jordan said, which meant he got to roll over and hit the snooze button instead of report to duty.
The Defense Department and Marine Corps spokesman pulled his camouflage blanket over his head to go back to sleep. But after just 22 minutes, a deafening noise erupted and his building began to shake.
One of the deadliest attacks on Americans overseas had just occurred 100 yards from his building's front door.
"It was the loudest explosion I had ever heard," Jordan said. "It imploded all our doors and windows. . . . It's all still very vivid."
On Wednesday, Jordan and about a dozen other Beirut veterans assembled at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico to share their stories and unveil a new exhibit that commemorates that day 25 years ago when a terrorist drove a truck filled with explosives into the four-story Battalion Landing Team 1/8 Headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 Americans and wounding hundreds.
The exhibit, "Where Do We Get Such Men?," uses photos and quotes to chronicle the Marines' peacekeeping mission from August 1982 to February 1984. It goes over the attack on the Marine barracks as well as the attack the same day at the French headquarters in Lebanon in which 58 paratroopers were killed.
"The anniversary of the attack is marked each year by fellow Marines, and it should be remembered and studied by all," Museum Director Lin Ezell said about opening the exhibit. "Many historians tracking the history on the global war of terrorism go back to what happened in Lebanon."
The exhibit is the first of several that will come through the museum and mark the period since 1975, Ezell said, noting that the museum currently covers World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It will remain open for a year and is financed by a donation from Marine H. Furlong Baldwin. The amount of the donation was not disclosed.
"I was very disappointed when the museum opened and only had one piece of concrete from the bombing," Jordan said. "Because it wasn't a war, it gets forgotten."
Jordan said he is happy to see the three-panel display the museum now has to commemorate the event. Although some have forgotten what happened 25 years ago, he never will.
Jordan said that after his building stopped shaking that day, he shuffled through the debris and put on his "battle dress," still unaware of how bad the situation was. As he headed toward the barracks, on the grounds of Beirut International Airport, he began to realize the extent of what had just occurred.
"As I approached the site, at first I thought there were broken tree pieces around," but there was blood, the 70-year-old Florida resident said. "I realized they were parts of my comrades."
Jordan helped his fallen brothers and shuffled through the debris until he was forced to leave and do his job as a public information officer -- relaying the news of the event to people back home.
That, he said, was the hardest thing he had to do.
Like Jordan, fellow Marine Paul Roy clearly remembers that day. Roy, who joined the Marines in 1973, was the Alpha Company commander, stationed less than two miles from the barracks.
"It was just before 6:30 a.m., and the ground shook. I knew something had been hit," the Stafford resident said. "As I looked up across the way, I saw the BLT headquarters engulfed in a huge black cloud. I got on the radio and called the battalion, but there was no answer. . . . I knew something devastating had happened."
Roy said Beirut was fairly peaceful when he arrived in May 1983. The Marines had been stationed in Lebanon for a while, helping the Lebanese people and trying to maintain some normalcy in the war-torn country. Although tension began to rise by September, Roy said, he never would have thought that a terrorist would drive an estimated 2,000 pounds of explosives deliberately into the barracks.
"You never imagine that something that devastating would happen," the 59-year-old said. "When I was first told the barracks was down, I envisioned the worst. I had a lot of close friends there. I knew their wives, their children. We had all come out of Camp Lejeune together."
While Roy was stationed on land that infamous day 25 years ago, John Kerr was stationed offshore on the USS Iwo Jima. The Marine helicopter pilot said everything was quiet aboard the ship until 6:30 a.m., when the phone rang. Because it was Sunday and their day off, Kerr said he immediately knew something was wrong.
"The initial word was that a car bomb went off and some were wounded. We didn't know the extent until the first helicopter came back and said we needed everyone," the 54-year-old Woodbridge resident said. The first pilot "said, 'It's gone, it's no longer there.' That's exactly the words he used. 'The barracks is gone.' "
Kerr said the crews had to reconfigure their helicopters to hold stretchers instead of able-bodied passengers. The pilots would bring the wounded back to the ship, make sure they were stabilized and then return them to shore so they could be taken to Germany for further treatment.
"It is unbelievable the injuries people had," said Kerr, now chief of physical training with the FBI. "Each surgeon was working on two bodies at a time."
Kerr said the mission that day was not only to save all they could but also to make sure the wounded were never left alone. The sailors on the ship held the hands of the wounded and talked to them, doing what they could, Kerr said, to ease the pain.
Kerr said he heads to Camp Lejeune, N.C., each year on the anniversary of the attack. The Marine Corps base has a monument that memorializes the sacrifices made in Beirut.
"I'll always remember that day, and it's nice to see it remembered at the museum," Kerr said. "The memorial at Camp Lejeune is usually only visited by Marines, but this brings it back into the public."

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