Wednesday, October 10, 2007
By K.C. MYERS
October 09, 2007
SANDWICH — To say John Santos suffered during his military service would be an understatement.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 1983, the lifelong Sandwich resident fell asleep in the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and woke up buried in debris, unable to hear and suffering from a concussion and a fractured skull.
And he was one of the lucky ones. Approximately 241 service members died, most of them fellow Marines, when a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the barracks. It has been called the most deadly act of terrorism to U.S. citizens prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
Last month, almost 24 years after the bombing, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth awarded $2.65 billion to nearly 1,000 survivors of the bombing and their families, to be paid by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The judge stated that Iran clearly aided and backed the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which carried out the attack.
It's now up to the U.S. government to decide if and when to release Iranian assets frozen here and in other U.S.-friendly countries. There seems to be the political will to punish Iran for its participation in terrorist attacks, so the chances of the victims receiving this money are good, according to Washington, D.C., attorney Richard D. Heideman of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, which represented some of the families.
Nine months too late
All this should be good news to Santos, 45, who has five children and cannot work because of back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But here is where his luck really ran out. Santos didn't find out about the lawsuit until his daughter, now a junior at Sandwich High School, came across a reference to the litigation while researching the Internet for a book her teacher recommended. Her discovery, in January, came nine months too late.
A law enacted in 1996 that allows Americans to sue nations that the State Department considers sponsors of terrorism for damages suffered in terrorist acts effectively expired in April 2006, Heideman said.
Santos contacted Heideman's office as soon as he heard, but was told he had missed the deadline.
The judge found Iran liable back in 2003, but the suit made big news last month when Lamberth awarded the actual damages. Santos called a fellow survivor living in Massachusetts. The man (who asked that his name not be published) told Santos he was expecting $2 million to $5 million from the suit.
"Oh, I went ballistic," Santos said.
Santos cannot understand how no one — not the attorneys themselves nor fellow survivors — contacted him during all the years the lawsuit was in process.
"It's not like I moved or have an unlisted home number," said Santos, who graduated from Sandwich High School in 1980 and returned to his hometown following his military service.
Santos suffers back problems from crushed discs, a result of being thrown and then buried in debris following the bombing. He also has disfiguring facial scars and is missing part of an earlobe, he said.
"But that's nothing compared to what I've gone through with PTSD," he said.
Santos, who received a Purple Heart, recalls passing body parts as he walked out of the destroyed military base. He can no longer go into restaurants or malls for fear he may have a panic attack, he said.
The attorneys searched for other survivors and families by posting notices on the Internet, but they mostly worked through a national support group, the Beirut Veterans Association, Heideman said. Santos, however, said he was never involved with the association because it's mostly for family members of the deceased, he said.
"For a long time, I didn't want to face it because I felt guilty that I lived," he said.
A very active member of that group, Chris Devlin, lives in Westwood. She is the mother of Michael Devlin, who died in the bombing at age 21.
Devlin said she found and alerted many survivors and family members in the Bay State, including the man who told Santos he expected $2 million to $5 million.
But she never found Santos.
"I don't know how I missed him," she said of Santos. "I feel ever so badly about it."
Privacy laws hampered her ability to search, she said.
"We were not privy to names and current addresses," Heideman said.
After the damages portion of the lawsuit was announced in September, a number of people contacted Heideman's office saying they'd survived or are family members of the deceased, Heideman said. They too claimed to not know about the lawsuit, he said.
"We are evaluating the situation," Heideman said of the additional possible plaintiffs. "It's a matter we are reviewing."
This is about the only glimmer of hope for Santos and others like him.
"It's not so much about the money," Santos said. "I just feel dishonored. ... The worst part is, my daughter feels so guilty for showing me that letter (on the lawsuit). The children are now the victims of the bombing. That's the last thing I ever wanted."
K.C. Myers can be reached at email@example.com.
BLOG EDITOR'S NOTE!!!!!
"The attorneys searched for other survivors and families by posting notices on the Internet, but they mostly worked through a national support group, the Beirut Veterans Association, Heideman said. Santos, however, said he was never involved with the association because it's mostly for family members of the deceased, he said."
THE BEIRUT VETERANS OF AMERICA IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN FOR THE VETERANS,AND FAMILY MEMBERS