ARLINGTON, Va. --
Veterans, families, friends and various dignitaries gathered under blue skies at section 59 in Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 17 to remember their loved ones and brothers in arms.
Since 1984, the remembrance ceremony has been an annual event of sorrow and celebration for the men who gave their lives during a peace keeping mission in Beirut.
At approximately 6:22 a.m., on Oct. 23, 1983, an Islamic terrorist drove a yellow delivery truck into the lobby of the Marine Corps barracks at Beirut International Airport. The vehicle exploded with a force equivalent to 12,000 pounds of TNT, destroying the building and killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. Additionally, 58 French paratroopers were killed in a separate attack just two minutes later as they were mobilizing to assist their fellow service members.
“Most of our countrymen probably believe this global war on terror started on 9/11,” said Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway. “I don’t believe that for a moment. I believe it started in October of 1983 when we first saw a significant strike on the young men – Marine, Navy and Army, who were in that building in Beirut.”
During the ceremony, families of the fallen were called forward to lead everyone in the pledge of allegiance. Leaders, dignitaries and veterans spoke about the courage and sacrifice of all who were affected by the tragedy. Furthermore, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps detachment of Mount Vernon High School laid white roses on the graves of those who died that day. To conclude the ceremony, a remembrance wreath was placed by the memorial stone next to the Beirut Cedar tree in section 59.
“We hope you will be consoled in the knowledge that others remember, you are not forgotten and never will be,” said Carmella LaSpada, executive director of the Whitehouse Commission of Remembrance. “Love has brought us together today, a love for those we honor, and a love for our nation.”
This year, numerous guest speakers, including 28th commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Paul X. Kelly, 29th commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Alfred M. Gray, Jr., and Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid were present to recognize the sacrifices of the veterans and their families, fulfilling the promise that they will never be forgotten.
“They lost their lives while in a peace keeping mission,” Chedid said. “I’m here to pay tribute to them for their bravery. They paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of peace. Twenty-seven years later, their memory is still in our hearts.”
For the Marines, sailors soldiers who were there, the memory will forever remain etched in their minds.
Craig Renshaw, president of Beirut Veterans of America, said it’s important to remember the lives of the men who died that day. Most Marines knew at least one person who died. For them, the memory is going to be there forever, but it’s up to the chapters, those who were affected and a younger generation to remind others what happened when we suffered the first blow in the war on terror.
“Remembrance is not letting the memory of the guys who gave their lives be forgotten,” he said. “It’s all about them.”