By DoD News
By David Vergun
Forty years ago, terrorists drove two trucks filled with explosives into buildings housing a multinational peacekeeping force, killing 241 U.S. service members and 58 French military and civilian personnel in Beirut.
It was early Sunday morning when the first suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb into the four-story barracks of the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, causing it to collapse, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers and injuring over 100.
Minutes later, a second suicide bomber rammed the nearby Drakkar building, killing 58 French paratroopers and injuring 15 others. About two dozen Lebanese civilians were also killed or injured in the two attacks.
Rescue and recovery operations ramped up within minutes and lasted over the next five days. U.S. Navy medical personnel from the Sixth Fleet arrived by helicopter to treat the injured and evacuate them. Italian, French and British troops provided assistance, along with Lebanese civilians.
While the rescue and recovery operations were underway, the peacekeeping force was under sporadic attack from snipers and artillery fire.
The Marines’ withdrawal from Lebanon was completed Feb. 26, 1984. The British, French and Italian forces making up the rest of the peacekeeping force withdrew about the same time.
David Madaras, a Marine veteran, said that after the initial explosion, he started looking for survivors. During rescue efforts, Madaras said he remembers swinging a sledgehammer “in a frantic effort” to save a Marine trapped under slabs of concrete.
Retired Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Ed Evans, who was part of the peacekeeping force, recalled that when the Marines first landed in August 1982 some Lebanese civilians greeted them. He said some older residents remembered the previous Marine Corps peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in 1958.
Not all was peaceful and quiet, however, he said. “Each day began with gunfire and exploding artillery rounds,” Evans recalled, adding that pattern continued over the course of the Marines’ stay there.
Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff and Father George Pucciarelli, both Navy chaplains, survived the blast.
“The giant, four-story building that I expected to see was so demolished that it seemed as if it had just disappeared. Through the smoke and the air filled with dust, I could see the rubble and, worst of all, the pieces of bodies strewn throughout the area,” said Resnicoff.
Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Steve Reuss landed in Beirut with the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit in February 1983 and returned stateside before the bombing.
On the day of the bombing, Reuss’ first child was born. “The doctor who delivered her knew I was a Marine, and he said, ‘Aren’t you glad you’re not in Beirut.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about because I hadn’t yet heard the news,” Reuss recalled.
Gina Marie Reuss Ward, whose birthday falls on the anniversary of the bombing, said she’s proud of her father’s service and realizes the sacrifice so many Marines made on the day she was born and throughout the history of the Marine Corps.
After the bombing, President Ronald Reagan said: “I know there are no words that can express our sorrow and grief for the loss of those splendid young men and the injuries to so many others. I know there are no words also that can ease the burden of grief for the families of those young men. Likewise, there are no words to properly express our outrage and, I think, the outrage of all Americans at the despicable act …”
A Beirut Memorial was created at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where annual memorial services are held.
Arlington National Cemetery has a marker in Section 59, which was dedicated Oct. 23, 1984, honoring those killed in Beirut. Twenty-one service members killed during the bombing are buried near the marker.
Other memorials have been erected in various locations in the United States, including at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Quantico, Virginia.