State News

Beirut bombing survivors mark 25th anniversary

Posted October 23, 2008 12:49 p.m. EDT
Updated October 23, 2008 6:29 p.m. EDT

— Around 1,000 people gathered Thursday at a Jacksonville memorial to mark the day when suicide bombers attacked international peacekeepers' barracks in Lebanon and killed nearly 250 U.S. servicemembers, mostly Camp Lejuene Marines.

Survivors of the bombing attended a reunion and gathered for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Beirut Bombing Memorial.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway told visitors Thursday that none of the victims "thought they would die on a mission for peace."

In October 1983, two suicide bombers drove explosive-laden trucks into hotels at the Beirut International Airport where American and French peacekeepers were staying.

Among the dead were 241 Americans, including 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers. Fifty-eight French soldiers killed, and another 60 Americans were injured.

"It was a very loud explosion, and then it was followed by these enormous shock waves," said retired Col. Tim Geraghty, who was working in an office 100 yards from the blast site.

The memorial wall in Jacksonville has become a touchstone for survivors and the bereaved. Since it was built in 1988, the memorial has been the site of annual services and gatherings.

"Twenty-five years ago on this day, we mourned as a community," Sammy Phillips said.

Judith Young said she returns to the memorial every year to remember her son, whose name is etched on the wall.

"(I) rub my hand across it and feel like, 'OK, he knows I'm here,'" Young said.

Thomasine Baynard came with her 25-year-old son, who knows his father, Lance Cpl. James Baynard, only through pictures and stories.

"I am here to honor him and also to bring my family and my son, who was a month old when he was killed," Baynard said.

The attack created the deadliest single-day death toll in Marine Corps history since the Battle of Iwo Jima and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.

The militant Shia group Hezbollah, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S., has been largely but not unanimously blamed for the attack.

Visitors said the service and memorial are a fitting way to keep alive the memory of the slain servicemembers.

"I can't think of a finer tribute to fallen peacekeepers," Geraghty said.