Thursday, November 03, 2005

Beirut remembered in Al Anbar Province

Submitted by: II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Evan M. Eagan

Story Identification #: 200511234758

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq(Nov. 2, 2005) -- More than 22 years ago the United States government agreed to establish a peacekeeping presence in Beirut, Lebanon to help quell a conflict between Muslim and Christian factions in the country.

In early 1983 Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, deployed to Beirut to support the mission.

During the early morning hours of Oct., 23, 1983, having spent nearly six months in country, disaster struck.

At approximately 6:22 a.m., 241 service members [220 Marines, 18 Sailors and three Soldiers] lost their lives in a matter of seconds when a suicide bomber driving a truck carrying the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of dynamite breached Marine security and crashed into the main lobby of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Battalion Landing Team headquarters building at Beirut International Airport.

Today, two service members serving in Iraq, who were in Beirut at the time of the attack, look back on the tragic day.

“At first I thought we had taken a direct hit,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Darrell Gibson, senior enlisted advisor, Regimental Aid Station, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, who was at the Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, headquarters in a library about a mile away from the blast. “They were firing rockets at us pretty regularly. It was a pretty good sized explosion and then we could see the mushroom cloud. Then we realized it was something more.”

Captain Kyle O’Malley, officer-in-charge, Regional Detention Facility Al Asad, 5th Battalion, 14th Marines Military Police Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD), was a corporal with 2nd Radio Battalion during the attack.

“I was working out of a position approximately 12 miles up the road in the mountains overlooking the city of Beirut in a place called Yarze at the foothills of the Shouf Mountains,” he said. “The blast shook the building we were in and I bolted up from my rack. There were some hills blocking our view of the headquarters building, but very quickly the mushroom cloud of dust and debris rose well above the airport and foothills in front of us.”

According to Gibson, after the attack the Marines were preparing for a possible follow on attack, and manned their positions.

“We got word from the ship to stay in place,” said Gibson, who was a petty officer 3rd class at the time. “Everyone was on their toes, locked in their positions. We were told that we might get hit next.”

Another attack did occur minutes later, however, not on a Marine position.

“While we were observing the headquarters and making radio calls to our elements at the headquarters area and other remote areas, we actually watched the French headquarters blow up five minutes after our [1st Battalion, 8th Marines Battalion Landing Team] was hit,” said O’Malley, a Le Center, Minn., native. “This was in our clear view.”

After the attack, Gibson and O’Malley assisted in the recovery and extraction efforts.

“The next day [Alpha Company] went to assist the BLT,” said Gibson. “There was about 4-6 days of extraction to move people out of the rubble. There were just so many people buried alive while they were sleeping. It was hard.”

O’Malley was part of the final clearing stage and helped secure any classified material during the debris removal-- a job he was assigned to because of his security clearance.

Twenty-two years later both men say it is still hard to look back on their time in Beirut.

“We trained together, ate together, lived together and got to know each other whether we liked it or not,” said Gibson. “I knew a lot of Marines that were [at the BLT Headquarters] that day. The 8th Marines were special.”

“What are my thoughts 22 years later?” asked O’Malley. “That all those Marines never had the chances we have to get married, have kids and follow our roads in life. As someone else said of these things—it is okay to look back once in a while, just don’t stare.”

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