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October 24, 2012

They Came in Peace

Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root... Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.

- Ronald Reagan

Today is the 29th anniversary of the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

In 1983 the blog princess was 24 and the spousal unit was a young 1st Lieutenant stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We had just moved there with our two small sons, aged 4 and 1.

We bought our first home there; a three bedroom brick ranch affair in Brynn Marr. Marine life was still relatively new to two Navy juniors. I was busy planning activities with other Marine wives, terraforming our yard, sewing curtains and pillows and slipcovers and refinishing furniture in between long walks with two little boys and an incorrigible but loving beagle puppy. The spousal unit was working his way through the normal series of jobs in an artillery battalion. Life was slow paced - punctuated by field exercises and dinings in and out.

News of the Beirut bombing exploded like... well, a bomb into our peaceful existence. Suddenly, field exercises weren't just training for some distant war that might never come.

In an instant, the abstract became terrifyingly real. But the truth is that time has fogged my memories of that long ago era. The armor of youth and inexperience insulated me from true grief or fear; with the invincibility of inexperience, I still believed in my heart of hearts that no harm would ever befall those I had come to love in this strange family affectionately known as Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.

That knowledge was yet to come, repeated over and over again at Marine Balls where candles were lit, tears shed or stifled, and eyes averted from the empty place set at the table we shared.

I do, however, remember these words from our President:

“If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office, with this president,” Reagan said….

“Let me finally say that I have soberly consider the commission’s word about accountability and responsibility of authorities up and down the chain of command ….

“I do not believe, therefore, that the local commanders on the ground — men who have suffered quite enough — should be punished for not fully comprehending the nature of today’s terrorist threat. If there is to be blame it properly rests here in this office and with this president. And I accept the responsibility for the bad as well as the good.”

I didn't read newspapers much then. I was far too busy keeping house and taking care of our little family. So I never delved too deeply into the whys and wherefores of what happened in Beirut. In 2002, the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia interviewed then-SecDef Casper Weinburger about the tragedy. It's a sobering read, and a reminder of the heavy burden born by Presidents and of how terrifyingly easy it is to let our vigilance slip for a moment.

Oddly, what I remember most about the tragedy was how it brought a community together to mourn and remember the dead and comfort their families. The friction between civilian and military, familiar from a lifetime spent moving from one military town to another, vanished and the very atmosphere in Jacksonville changed. For a moment - perhaps forever - we became, all of us, family.

What I remember most is the sight of Bradford pear trees in bloom along Lejeune Boulevard and a stone marker with these words inscribed upon it:


War seems to generate a lot of abstract and fluffy quotes about how all it takes for peace to blossom is for people to refuse to fight. It's a lovely thought, but so long as men are free to choose war - so long as they are free - those who prefer violence to compromise and cooperation still have a vote.

Santayana was right: only the dead have seen the end of the war.

On this day, may we remember the men who protect the freedoms we enjoy. And their families, who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Posted by Cassandra at October 24, 2012 07:14 AM

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I remember it well. I was commanding Merrimack as part of the JFK Battle Group in Brazil. We made a (very) fast transit to the Med and spent almost all of the deployment off Beirut.I kept offering hot meals/showers/clean bunks to the troops ashore on a rotational basis. The Colonel in charge replied that he was grateful for the offer, but his Marines stuck togather no matter what. That impressed me at the time and has stuck with me to this day. We did somehow ;-) make sure that Marine mail got top prioroity for delivery, though!

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 24, 2012 09:10 AM

The Savannah monument to fallen Marines is dedicated specifically to Gunnery Sergeant John Pearson, who was killed in the Beirut bombing. It is located at the top of Forsyth Park.

Posted by: Grim at October 24, 2012 09:32 AM

I also remember it so well, the total shock and dismay, utter bewilderment at why,how young and uniformed we civilians were then and how the shocks to follow would impact us so greatly.

Thank you, Cassandra.

Posted by: neenergyobserver at October 24, 2012 10:27 AM

We all grew up a lot that day.

Posted by: spd rdr at October 24, 2012 11:37 AM

I still boil over when I think of this bombing.

The MNF was there to, among other things, allow the the PLO, Arafat, Syrian and Iranian combatants to evacuate Beirut before the Israelis and their Lebanese allies hooked the PLO and Co. up with their 72 goats per mufsid.

The Muslims transformed the Arab tradition of the razzia into the jihad in the 7th century A.D. Little has changed in their world. Unfortunately for the rest of the world and those in it who will settle for nothing less than freedom, the Muslim world is still seeping into the West.

I think I'll hush before my blood pressure registers on a seismic monitor somewhere.

Posted by: bthun at October 24, 2012 12:48 PM

I am contrasting Reagan's accepting responsibility to Beirut to Obama and Benghazi.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at October 24, 2012 12:58 PM

I am contrasting Reagan's accepting responsibility to Beirut to Obama and Benghazi.

Awfully decent of you, Bill. You're in good company; Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama joins you in assigning blame for Benghazi to Reagan.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at October 24, 2012 03:32 PM

There are, still, those on both sides of our political battlefield who "get it" -- some of whom have either never served or who are quiet about having done so; sadly, there are also those who, it seems, never will.

Posted by: htom at October 25, 2012 10:27 PM

I was a bit younger, but I remember my Dad coming home in the middle of the day, spending about 30min checking his gear, and then heading in to the Squadron. I would now describe his mood as Shock and Numbness, then I thought it was just another drill. It wasn't until later that day, when I saw the TV at a friend's house that I was able to put it together.

William sends.

Posted by: William at October 29, 2012 01:24 AM