ARLINGTON, Va. -- Marines and family members gathered under sunny skies Sunday at the Arlington National Cemetery to remember service members killed in a terrorist attack at a Marine barracks in Lebanon 22 years ago.
The somber ceremony took place where 21 of the 241 servicemembers killed were laid to rest. A memorial stone marking the site sits alongside a Lebanese cedar symbolizing the nation in which they died.
The Marines of First Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment were stationed in Beirut, as part of an international peacekeeping force in a nation torn by war. On Oct. 23, 1983 at 6:22 a.m., a large Mercedes delivery truck drove to the Beirut International Airport where their barracks was located. The driver of the truck turned onto an access road that led to the compound. The vehicle rushed through a barbed-wire fence, passed through two sentry posts, crashed through the gate and finally, it slammed into the lobby of the barracks.
After the impact, the terrorist detonated the 19-ton delivery truck, laden with explosives. The blast had a power equal to more than 12,000 pounds of TNT. The four-story compound collapsed, crushing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers to death…while they slept. Sixty Americans were injured in the explosion.
According to a federal court order issued in a 2003 case brought by relatives of the victims, the resulting explosion was the “largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been detonated on the face of the Earth.”
Sunday’s remembrance began with words from the Master of Ceremonies retired Navy captain Capt. William Perry.
“To those of you who serve, and to those of you who have served, thank you very much,” Perry said.
He comforted the families in attendance that Americans have not forgotten that fateful day.
“We’ve not stopped hurting because you hurt,” said Perry to the victims’ families, “and we’ve not stopped praying for you.”
Ambassador Lowell Bruce Laingen, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Col. Stephen Mikolaski, Headquarters Marine Corps, offered their condolences, reminding them that their children had not died in vain. Mikolaski was a young lieutenant stationed in Beirut at the time of the bombing.
Students from Mt. Vernon High School’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in Alexandria, Va., also honored the fallen Marines. They marched onto the gravesite where 21 of the victims were laid to rest. They placed a rose on each gravestone and immediately thereafter, saluted to show respect for those whose lives were taken away.
A wreath laying followed in which a Marine lance corporal in his dress blue uniform marched slowly to the memorial stone. He placed it alongside the stone and the Lebanese cedar. Laingen and Mikolaski stood in a moment of silence in front of the wreath.
In the background, a Marine bugler stood tall while playing “Taps.”
The annual tribute was organized by the White House Commission on Remembrance, an organization dedicated to remembering servicemembers who have died in war or acts of terrorism.