Remembering Beirut, October 23, 1983

 

25 Years Later: We Came in Peace

By Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

 On Sunday morning, 23 October 1983, I awoke as usual at dawn, dressed, and went below to the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit’s Combat Operations Center to check the overnight communications traffic. I roamed outside my headquarters at Beirut International Airport to view the dawn, struck by the quiet of the morning. I saw Marines going about their duties and greeted others preparing for a workout. Being Sunday, we were on a modified routine that pushed reveille back an hour to 0630, with Sunday brunch served between 0800 and 1000.

I returned to my office, which I shared with my executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Slacum, to review the daily schedule. Little did we know that this morning would be anything but quiet and routine.

At 0622, a massive explosion rocked our headquarters, followed by enormous shock waves. Shards of glass from the blown out windows, equipment, manuals, and papers flew across the room. The office entry door, located on the far side away from the explosion, was blown off its hinges, the frame bent and the reinforced concrete foundation of the building cracked.

I ran outside to find myself engulfed in a dense, gray fog of ash, with debris still raining down. I felt sickened as I stumbled around to the rear of my headquarters, thinking we had taken a direct hit from a Scud missile or heavy artillery. As the acrid fog began lifting, my logistics officer, Major Bob Melton, gasped, “My God, the BLT building is gone!” A knot tightened in my gut.

After an instant of disbelief, I quickly realized we had suffered heavy casualties. I later learned that a suicide driver penetrated our southern perimeter and rammed a 19-ton truck bomb into the lobby of the Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) building and detonated it. Forensics and intelligence later estimated the compressed-gas-enhanced device to have an explosive equivalent in excess of 20,000 pounds of TNT. Minutes later, a similar truck bomb struck the French paratrooper headquarters at Ramlet-El-Baida, bringing down a nine-story building and killing 58 French peacekeepers.

This started the longest and most miserable day of my life. The death toll eventually reached 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, the highest loss of life in a single day since D-Day on Iwo Jima in 1945. The coordinated dual suicide attacks, supported, planned, organized, and financed by Iran and Syria using Shiite proxies, achieved their strategic goal: the withdrawal of the multinational force from Lebanon and a dramatic change in U.S. national policy. The synchronized attacks that morning killed 299 U.S. and French peacekeepers and wounded scores more. The cost to the Iranian/Syrian-supported operation was two suicide bombers dead. (continue reading here)

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