JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - In the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 1983, an explosion and fireball pulverized the four-story Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 service members, most of whom were stationed out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. More than a quarter-century and a few wars have dulled the public’s memory of the Beirut attack but the community is still feeling the effects today.
In commemoration of the Marines, sailors and soldiers who lost their lives, the 25th annual Beirut Memorial Observance Ceremony was held at the Beirut Memorial at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C., Oct. 23. The memorial ceremony illustrates the sacrifice service members made for freedom and also educates a young audience on a significant event in our history.
In 1986, the first Beirut Memorial ceremony was held, beginning the city and the base’s oath to “never forget.”
This anniversary draws veterans and family members to Jacksonville from across the country to remember the sacrifice those service members gave in the name of freedom.
During the memorial service, presided over by city and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune officials, Beirut Memorial Advisory Board member Ronald Bower reminded the audience of how the community had taken action following the tragedy. Raising more than $270,000, the community and City of Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission first planted a row of Bradford Pear trees along Freedom Way in honor of the fallen and then built a granite wall with their names and the motto “They Came in Peace.”
“The memorial that was erected entirely by private funds continues to stand as a memorial by the city of Jacksonville to the troops whose names are carved in stone,” Bower said.
The guest of honor, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, recalled the names and stories of a few of the fallen as he addressed the crowd: Capt. Michael Haskell, Sgt. Maj. Frederick Douglass, Sgt. Jeffrey Young and Lance Cpl. Johnny Copeland.
“We lost husbands, fathers, little league coaches and members of our church,” Dunford said. “We lost men who made a difference in our lives and in the world. We lost Marines who carried on the proud traditions of our Corps and unhesitatingly performed their duty.”
The ceremony concluded with the laying of wreaths in honor of the lost troops at the base of the memorial wall as well as the dedication of a plaque in honor of Gold Star mothers, who have lost a child in the service of his or her country.
As the ceremony ended, family members made their way to the wall, viewed the names of their loved ones, wiped their tears away and promised yet again to “never forget.”