The attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983 became a harbinger of what is known today as the war on terror, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, during a ceremony Oct. 23, 2013, in Jacksonville, N.C., to mark the 30th anniversary of the attacks.
The terrorist truck bomb took the lives of 241 service members.
"The world we lived in and the future we knew of a secure environment changed forever that morning of Oct. 23," Amos said. "The nation was not expecting this. It was a new kind of warfare. The threat of radical extremists being able to target military and civilian personnel with weapons of mass destruction for political, religious and personal gains was a new way to attack the West. It was a cowardly act on freedom."
The early 1980s was a tumultuous time of conflicting powers, Amos told the audience of Marines, as well as families and friends of those killed in the attack. "[That era] indeed became the harbinger of more challenging times yet to come," the general said. "Tensions were high across the world, the Cold War raged on, and radicalism surfaced as a new threat to stability in the Middle East."
And, "when conflict ripped at the peaceful coexistence of Lebanon, the United States, France, Italy and Great Britain answered the call to assist," Amos said of the multinational peace-keeping force that went into Beirut.
Amos described how Marines attempted to serve as peace keepers at a time when the country was deeply immersed in a civil war.
"They stood watch and patrolled chaotic streets to provide a blanket of safety and security and comfort for the citizens of Lebanon. They stood for freedom," he said, adding that the Marines knew their protection of the citizens came with a risk.
"On Oct. 23, 1983, terror struck. At 6:22 a.m., extremists drove an explosives-laden truck into the Marine barracks the likes of which had never been witnessed before. The massive explosion shook the ground of the entire Beirut International Airport along with the souls of all the Marines throughout the world," Amos said.
"Two-hundred and forty-one Marines and American soldiers and sailors [who] volunteered to make a difference" died in the attack, he added.
"They volunteered to serve their country ... to put the lives and freedoms of others before their own ... 241 of our finest, Amos said. "We honor each of them today."
Beginning with the attacks in Beirut, extremists have attempted to destroy what makes the United States great by attacking America at home and abroad, Amos pointed out.
He recounted the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in which a truck detonated alongside a building that housed U.S. Air Force personnel, killing 19 and wounding 498. He also recalled the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which 220 people were killed and more than 4,000 were wounded. Amos also spoke of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, berthed in Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of 17 American sailors and injured 39others.
"On 9/11," Amos said, "terrorists attacked America, in New York, the fields of Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000. We remember each of these well. We will never forgive, nor will we ever forget."
In September 2012, he added, gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four people, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
"Not only are these world-changing events, but they are very personal to all of us here today," Amos said.
U.S. troops responded in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
"Today, our Marines remain forward-deployed," Amos said. "Marine expeditionary units are stationed around the globe -- the 26th, the 13th and the 31st Marines continue to train security forces and deny terrorists safe havens throughout all of Afghanistan."
When Marines respond to crises, they remain strong, and ready to respond and answer the nation's call, Amos said. Since the fateful day of the Beirut attacks, the Marines have stayed consistent in character and courage, and those traits have "not wavered and never will," he said.
"Across the globe, extremists have attempted to plot against our freedom and our democracy. They have tested our resolve as a nation. Those men who died 30 years ago would be proud to know that we have never relented," Amos told the audience members, who responded with cries of "Oorah!"
"We have never backed down, and we never will," he said.