"Johnny, there ain't no BLT building."

23 Oct 2000 | Sgt. A.C. Strong, Marine Corps News

October 23, 1983, at 6:22 a.m. 241 Marines and fellow servicemembers were killed and more than 100 wounded, when a truck carrying explosives slammed through the guard posts and entered the Battalion Landing Team headquarters building in the Marine Amphibious Unit compound, Beirut, Lebanon."The force of the explosion ripped the building from its foundation. The building then imploded upon itself. Almost all the occupants were crushed or trapped inside the wreckage," said the Department of Defense spokesperson at that time.Televisions and news reports around the world replayed the gruesome image of Marines, some clad only in their undergarments, working frantically to free those buried in debris."It was so quiet," said Gunnery Sgt. Neale S. Bolen, then a corporal with 'A' Co., 2nd Combat Engineers - augmented to 1/8, Headquarters and Service Co. "You don't think it would be, but it was.""I thought maybe an RPG had hit," said the gunny. "Then I guess people began to come to because I could hear them beneath the rubble. I knew I was trapped."Organized rescue efforts began almost immediately, but the realization of the enormity of the loss took much longer to sink in, according to Mr. Eric Hammel, author of The Root: Marines In Beirut, who later interviewed dozens of the Marines who were there.Sailors and Marines worked to organize aid stations, that would be used to triage, stabilize, and organize evacuation of the casualties who were to be shipped to the primary-care center on board the USS Iwo Jima, safely nestled offshore of Beirut.According to HM3 Steve Brown, a corpsmen at the scene, the aide station, ran out of bandages within five minutes.Marines from "C" Company arrived at the scene around 6:30 a.m. "I was buried underneath there for awhile, and I started to panic," said Gunnery Sgt Bolen. "But then I heard the Marines up top. I knew they wouldn't leave me. I told myself, 'They're Marines, they'll get me.'"As their efforts continued, rescuers were confronted with the very real possibility that their efforts to rescue one, would rain debris on another.Rescuer, Master Sgt. George Jenkins, came up with the idea to punch holes through the concrete. Then chains were used to separate the concrete with a crane, as Lebanese and Americans worked side by side to free the trapped victims.Shortly thereafter, they pulled Cpl. Bolen from the debris. "Oh, I was pretty messed up," he said. According to reports, Cpl Bolen nearly lost his left eye. Covered in abrasions, and wounds from debris, the heat from the explosion literally melted his clothes onto him. "Crispy looking," the gunny said with a laugh. Aboard the USS Iwo Jima, the situation went from peace to chaos in a matter of moments as the Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 162, some of them routed out of bed, rushed to prepare the CH-46's to receive and transport the casualties. The two combat Search and Rescue aircraft, specifically equipped for medical evacuations, which were to always be kept ready, took off at about 6:45 a.m. Those left aboard ship prepared for the injured to arrive."This particular Sunday they had let us sleep in," said the then Cpl. Richard B. Truman, CH-46E crew chief. "When they woke us up and put us to flight quarters, they told us the BLT had been bombed. But there was no way we could have known what to expect."Gunnery Sgt. Warren Clopper, a Vietnam-veteran was one of the few on board who had an idea of what might be coming, when the first two helos returned around 7:30 a.m. They unloaded the wounded, refueled, and immediately headed back.As the doctor and corpsmen treated the ever-increasing number of wounded, Gunny Clopper recognized that they were under-manned and began assigning Marines to help out with those that had been stabilized. He also remembered that there was another person aboard, who was a trained emergency medical technician, prior to enlisting in the Corps."The hangar deck was full of the wounded," said Truman, remembering. "There were all kinds of injuries - burns, broken bones and crushing injuries. They were saying "Marine ... Marine ..."Gunny Clopper had Cpl. Truman released from his regular duties and took him to the senior surgeon."I was to stick beside the surgeon," said Truman, shaking his head. "I went from crew chief to starting IV's and triaging the wounded." He paused. "And I knew them. We knew them."Back on the beach, in the following days, the rescue efforts ended and the recovery of bodies began."We cannot and will not dishonor them now and the sacrifices they've made by failing to remain as faithful to the cause of freedom and the pursuit of peace as they have been," said Pres. Ronald Reagan, in his address following the bombing."There are some things you never forget," said Gunnery Sgt. Bolen. "For me it was the smell. It haunted me."As, apparently, did the sound. Gunny described working near a demolition range and ducking when charges (c-4, TNT, etc.) were fired, sometimes to the amusement of his fellow Marines. He was once asked, "Hey Gunny, what's the matter." "I just said, 'It's a long story, Wardog ... a long story.'""General Kelly and the Sergeant Major took care of us when we got back," said the gunny. "But nothing could bring those boys back. The boys we played football with, ate with, knew their families; they were just gone."Seventeen years later, it is still uncertain as to who is responsible for this tragedy. As time passes, details may fade, but the memory of that time and those Marines will not.October 23, 1986 a memorial was placed in Jacksonville, NC. On it is a plaque which reads, "HONORING THE MEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN LEBANON 1982 - 1984. MAY WE ALWAYS REMEMBER THOSE WHO ARE READY TO PROTECT OUR FREEDOM.""We remember Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Shield and Desert Storm," said now 1stSgt. Truman, Headquarters and Service Company First Sergeant, Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall. "But not Beirut. We lost a lot of good people on a 'peace-keeping mission' and we shouldn't forget."More information is available at the Beirut Memorial On Line, located at:*Editor's note: A special thanks to Mr. Eric Hammel, who greatly assisted with the research for this story.
Headquarters Marine Corps