Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beirut Stamp not Dead?


Jacksonville Daily News Jacksonville North Carolina

Sometimes, fitting tributes can come in small packages.

Monday, a group of veterans and family members learned that their fight to get a stamp honoring the victims of the 1983 Beirut bombing is not over yet. Some members of the Beirut Stamp Initiative have been working for more than two decades to get approval for a stamp memorializing the 241 peacekeepers who perished in the attack, most of whom were based in Jacksonville.

In that time, they have written letters to three U.S. presidents, mailed petitions containing an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 signatures, and received three rejections from the U.S. Postal Service.

This year’s application, the group’s final effort, includes endorsements from Beirut Veterans of America, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., 16 members of U.S. Congress and former commandant of the Marine Corps retired Gen. Michael W. Hagee.

The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, a group of 12 scholars and public figures whose members include former second lady Joan Mondale and Harvard academic Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., convened this weekend and were slated to deliver a decision about the Beirut memorial stamp.

But rather than denying the petition a fourth time, the committee chose to defer a decision until January, citing a lack of sufficient information about the memorial.

Bill Kibler, an Arlington, Va., resident and veteran who was in Beirut with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit several months prior to the bombing, said he was pleased that the committee had not denied the group’s request again.

“It’s a really positive sign for now,” he said.

A Web master for the Beirut Stamp Initiative, Kibler said he had worked to come up with a new idea this year to avoid another rejection. In the past, he said, the committee had denied requests based on its policy of not creating stamps to commemorate tragedies.

The latest application is for a stamp based on Jacksonville’s Beirut Memorial, a wall bearing the names of those who died, guarded by a bronze statue of a “The Peacekeeper” standing sentinel. Since the USPS minted a stamp dedicated to the Vietnam Memorial in 2000, the group hopes that this approach will clear the way to approval for them.

Judy Young of Burlington County, N.J., a Gold Star mother who lost her son, Sgt. Jeffrey Young, in the Beirut tragedy and co-founded the initiative about 24 years ago, said that finally getting a stamp would be a small but fitting tribute to the work and heroism of those like her son.

“It’s not only kind of a victory for the Beirut families to be recognized, it’s kind of a victory winning out over the post office committee,” she said.

The victory would come after years of slights and indignation, as the group has watched characters like Bart Simpson receive tribute in a stamp while their requests are denied.

Kibler said a stamp would show that honoring the veterans of Beirut is as vital as paying tribute to those of better-known tragedies.

“It will finally mean a little more sense of closure, that the government’s finally stepping up to acknowledge what happened 26 years ago,” Kibler said.

But now the work of this group is over for a few months.

“All we can do now is sit and wait,” Kibler said.

Officials with USPS stamp services did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Beirut stamp.

Contact Hope Hodge at 910-219-8453 or at

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where does this end? Endless Pain for Victims of Iran

Adding insult to infamy

26 years after attack on Marine barracks in Beirut, families stymied again in bid for restitution

Christine Devlin displayed a photo of  her son Michael, who was killed in a 1983 terrorist bombing in Beirut.  Below, US Marines pulled survivors from the rubble. Christine Devlin displayed a photo of her son Michael, who was killed in a 1983 terrorist bombing in Beirut. Below, US Marines pulled survivors from the rubble. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By Bryan Bender Globe Staff / November 14, 2009

On Veterans Day, Christine Devlin stood in the cold in Westwood for the unveiling of a new memorial to local soldiers lost overseas, including her son Michael, one of the 241 servicemen killed in the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.

Devlin is among 30 Massachusetts relatives of victims of the Beirut attack who have been fighting for more than a decade to get compensation for what many consider the first major terrorist attack against the United States. After a federal judge ruled in 2007 that Iran was liable for $2.65 billion in damages to be shared by 150 families seeking restitution, they believed they were on the cusp of victory.

But now, the Obama administration is going to court to try to block payments from Iranian assets that the families’ lawyers want seized, contending that it would jeopardize sensitive negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and establish a potentially damaging precedent.

In a little-noticed filing in federal court, the Justice Department is arguing that giving the money to the victims “can have significant, detrimental impact on our foreign relations, as well as the reciprocal treatment of the United States and its extensive overseas property holdings.’’

The Obama administration’s position is a blow to those like Devlin, who is still waiting for some measure of justice for her son, who was 21 when Hezbollah terrorists rammed a suicide truck bomb into the peacekeepers’ headquarters.

“It is offensive that our government - the government that [the Marines] were fighting for, who sent them there - are against us collecting from Iran,’’ Devlin said in an interview this week. “I felt justice was going to be served, but so far it hasn’t.’’

“We can’t go on with our lives,’’ said Marlys Lemnah, 62, of St. Albans, Vt., whose husband, Richard, a Marine sergeant nearing his 20-year retirement, was killed in Beirut. “It’s not about the money. We need something tangible: responsibility and accountability. We will fight until we have no more fight left.’’

The lawsuit, specialists say, also demonstrates the enormous difficulty for terrorism victims in general to collect damages. Despite a host of court rulings in its favor and legislation passed by Congress to make it possible to sue foreign governments that sponsor terrorism, the executive branch has long resisted such payments, arguing that seizing the assets of another country could restrict the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy. There are also significant legal disagreements over what kind of assets can be seized.

“Two branches are supporting [the families’] position and the executive branch is directly trying to undermine them,’’ said David J. Strachman, a Providence lawyer who has represented numerous families in terrorism cases involving Iran, but is not involved in this case.

Even the courts have grown frustrated. Royce C. Lamberth, chief judge of the US District Court in Washington who ruled in favor of the Beirut families, wrote in a Sept. 30 opinion that “these case have consumed substantial judicial resources while achieving few tangible results for the victims.’’

Over the years, Iran, which since 1984 has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the US government, has been found liable for nearly $10 billion in damages for attacks on Americans attributed to the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the United States says are financed and trained by Iran.

But in only a few cases have any Iranian funds been seized as compensation for the victims or their families - most notably from Iranian funds held by the US government before the two countries severed diplomatic relations in 1979.

Lawyers representing the Beirut families first went to court seeking damages in 2001, after Congress passed a law giving US courts jurisdiction over such lawsuits against nations that sponsor international terrorism.

Building the case took four years of depositions from victims’ relatives, US government officials, and even a former Hezbollah member, amounting to 30,000 pages of testimony, according to Thomas F. Fay, one of the lawyers representing the families.

The families’ first victory came in 2003 when the US District Court in Washington found that Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security helped plan and facilitate the Oct. 23, 1983, attack. Then, two years ago, the same court ruled the Iranian government was liable for the $2.65 billion in damages.

The families’ legal advisers and the Obama administration - like the Bush administration before it - disagree on how many Iranian assets could be legally seized in the case.

The Treasury Department estimates there is only $45 million in seizable Iranian assets in the United States and has argued in court that some of the property that the families’ lawyers have sought is outside the United States and cannot be legally seized.

“The total amount of judgments against terrorist states for exceeds the assets of debtor states known to exist within the jurisdiction of US courts,’’ an analysis published by the Congressional Research Service, which advises lawmakers, concluded last year.

But Fay maintains that he has identified as much as $2 billion worth of seizable Iranian assets, including securities held in a vault in New York that he said a senior US official has testified under oath is owned by Iran. Another source of funds he previously identified is an office tower in Manhattan, estimated to be worth $1 billion, that was among properties seized Thursday by federal prosecutors who assert they are owned by a foundation that is a front for the Iranian government.

“It is clear from the seizures of Iranian assets in New York and elsewhere that the government of Iran does indeed have significant tangible financial holdings in the United States,’’ Fay said yesterday.

Still, a deeper disagreement revolves around the possible consequences of seizing the assets of a foreign state and handing them over to victims of terrorism.

Fay and other lawyers who have represented terrorism victims assert that doing so would strengthen the government’s leverage with nations like Iran because there would be a clear price to pay for supporting terrorism.

The Justice Department declined to comment further on the administration’s position, but as the congressional analysis stated, “The issue has pitted the compensation of victims of terrorism against US foreign policy goals and some business interests.’’

Bryan Bender can be reached at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday October 23 2009

The names on the wall were read. Each Panel of the names of the young men who died between 1982 and 1984, are lifted up. Some names pronounced with a southern drawl, some names with a Midwestern accent, and some names read silently in the hearts of those who held their candles closely. Families of some of the slain men, read the panel that their son was listed on. Veterans read some names on the panels where their Brothers were. All the names, all the faces, every life remembered, cherished, and respected.

You see, on every October 23rd a candlelight service is held at the Beirut memorial in Jacksonville North Carolina. It starts promptly at 6 Am and ends at 6:23. That is for a reason. On the quiet Sunday Morning in Beirut Lebanon, on the 23rd of October 1983, a Homicidal Bomber drove his truck loaded with explosives into the Headquarters of the Marines in Beirut. It was the largest non-nuclear explosion we have known. That day 241 Marines were killed in their sleep and while on duty. During the entire Beirut War more than 270 Marines were Killed.

On that October morning in Beirut, the world took little notice of the whirlwind that would follow this massive blast. Yes, the deaths of the Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, would be mourned terribly, but the World did not realize the War on terrorism had begun. There was no official "Day of Infamy" speech by the President, there was no act of Congress, but be assured that the Radical Islamic forces at work today, point to that day as their crowning glory, their "Pearl Harbor" without the retribution.

Since that day we have slept here in the United States, preferring to bargain with the oil dictators then to avenge our young peacekeepers sacrifices. We were jarred awake on 9/11, but only for a short time, until again our greed and complacency settled over us again. Today, we try again to negotiate with the ones who murdered our young men. Today the ringleader of the killings is welcomed into our Country to speak at the UN in New York. Today, that Country has nuclear weapons, and yet we still seek to negotiate, to placate. There was a time when we should have retaliated, but now, our enemy ,Radical Islam, is at our doorstep, ringing our doorbell, banging on our door, we look through our peephole and see the Monster of Radical Islam, but we just pretend he is not there and will go away.

The names are read. Each panel completed. The candles are extinguished. I blow out my candle. I noticed my tears are falling again, as they always do on this day, they hit my wrist one after another. We mourn for our Sons, our Husbands, Our Nephews, our Brother in Laws, our Brothers in Arms. We know they did a noble act. They kept the peace, and were murdered for it.
For now, we remember them as young men, full of the vision and fullness of life.

The Sun is coming up now in Jacksonville North Carolina. Another day for the people of America filled with all the daily joys and problems we all face. Take a minute out today, just a minute, 60 seconds, and remember the sacrifice of those men, the men who gave their lives for our freedom to live free. The War on Terrorism began 26 years ago today. The Beirut Veterans of America have a motto it reads... "The First Duty is To Remember". Let us remember and never forget.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God"

Matthew 5:9

Semper Fidelis !

Friday, October 16, 2009

Well, what now? For over 26 years there has been such a deafening silence from Washington regarding our Beirut Marine,Navy,and Army Brothers. No stamp. No payment of the huge judgment against Iran. No appearance of any administration; Republican or Democrat, at our Annual Ceremony to honor our brave fallen comrades. Our pleadings fall on deaf ears in Washington and around the Country. Beirut? what are you talking about? What happened over there?

Just as our schools no longer teach the values and disciplines of our founding Fathers, the first battle against terrorism has been largely forgotten। Tucked away deep in the archives of the nations newspapers are a few two paragraph stories about the Beirut War and the men who fought over there.

Recently our President, Barrack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is disturbing. The entire operation in Beirut Lebanon from 1982 until 1984 was to keep the Peace. We lost many fine young men doing just that. Doesn't that rise to the standards for the Peace Prize? Each and every one of the next of kin of all the brave young men who gave their lives for Peace in Lebanon should have a share in the "Peace Prize".

As I type these words on this screen, I am well aware that will never happen. The powers that be will never recognize these brave men who took an impossible mission and made it work. These men, who one of them a Marine, stood on top of an Israeli Tank and leveled his .45 at the Israeli tank commander, and told him "You will stop here and go no further". One Marine, against a Tank ,protecting the people who would later spit at him, and murder his fellow Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers in their sleep on a quiet Sunday Morning in October.

I come back to my first question, what now? How do we proceed? Well, we are Marines and we will never falter and never fail. We will proceed with our Navy and Army Brothers and continue to push for the justice that we are seeking.

The Beirut Veterans of America have a simple motto, "The First Duty is to Remember". On October 23rd this year we will as we have all these many years. This year in Jacksonville North Carolina the candles will be lit at 0600 on October 23rd, and the names on the wall will be read in solemn tone. The Remembrance will never end. The Peacekeepers are on the wall, their sacrifice understood and justified by their comrades who still live.

Semper Fidelis my Brothers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memories of Mike : A family remembers its fallen son

Benton County Daily Record
Memories of Mike : A family remembers its fallen son

By Jessica Weekley Staff Writer

Posted on Monday, May 25, 2009

Siloam Sunday photograph by Gary Burton Ron Evans, left, commander of Siloam Springs American Legion Post 29, and Bennett Howell, World War II veteran and former POW, place a flag on the grave of David "Mike" Randolph at Oak Hill Cemetery on Saturday. Randolph was one of 241 U.S. Marines killed Oct. 23, 1983, by a suicide bomber in Beirut, Lebanon. The Legion will hold its annual Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. Monday at the Community Building in Siloam Springs.

Long before David Michael Randolph wore military-issue camouflage fatigues with his lips set in a grim line, he wore a pair of slick blue running shorts and Nike tennis shoes.

Before he took up a weapon and pledged his life to the United States Constitution, he was a knobby kneed little boy monkeying with his four younger siblings in California.

He loved to fish, stretch his well muscled legs during a long run and hoist his youngest brother into the air balanced on the balls of his feet.

In the early Sunday morning hours of Oct. 23, 1983, he was resting on a cot in U.S. Marines barracks at Beirut (Lebanon) International Airport .

After barreling through barbed wire and past bellowing security officers, a yellow truck hauling more than 12,000 pounds of dynamite crashed through the wall nearest Randolph.

It took less than a second for the five-ton Mercedes-Benz to detonate.

"I don't know how many total Marines were there that day, but he was one of the 243 that died," said Randolph's father and namesake, David Randolph. "What they told me was that my son was in the corner on his cot where he slept. The building collapsed in such a way that a sergeant, whose bed was across the room, survived without a mark on him."

The blasts led to the withdrawal of the International Peacekeeping Force from Lebanon, where troops from the United States and France had been stationed since the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

David and his wife, Virginia, were told their son was the closest person

to the truck when it exploded. Today, from their home in West Siloam Springs, Okla., the couple easily remember the day, more than 25 years ago, when news came pouring out of the television and radio that the airport turned-Marine barracks where their son was stationed had been devastatingly bombed.

"There were guys on the second and third floor, and it blew them right out of the windows. Some of them survived," David said. "Others were thrown off the roof. Even some of them made it out of there alive."

Randolph, known to family and friends as "Mike," didn't survive the blast.

Three weeks prior to his death, on Oct. 1, he had celebrated his 19th birthday thousands of miles away from his family. He had no way of knowing the letters he wrote would be delivered to his parents weeks after he died.

"His letters kept coming, even after," David said. "It's not easy to read a letter after the fact."

For three months following the bombing, the military listed Mike as missing.

Just days before Christmas, the Randolph family met some unwelcome visitors at their front door. David had spent weeks calling military officials with inquiries of Mike's status but had been given little information.

However unwanted the knocks were, the visitors dressed in military uniforms were expected.

"Months went by, and finally they came to the house one night," David said. "There were five of them. They said, 'We've identified your son.' Of course, I knew it wasn't good if it took that long."

It wasn't until the final day of the year in 1983 that his family was able to hold a memorial service in his honor.

Mike and another Marine were the last to be identified at a forensics lab in Hawaii. In a flag-draped steel coffin, Mike's remains arrived on a plane in Tulsa, Okla., the last week of December.

"It was just before Christmas, and we decided to wait until after to have a service - for the kids, for everybody." David said. "God, it was cold that day. We were told it was the coldest winter they had had here in a hundred years."

The Randolphs, natives of California, had lived on Franklin Street in Siloam Springs for less than six months before the death of their eldest son.

Without Mike, who had enlisted in the Marines at 17 years old, the blended family moved to the area from El Centro, Calif., in July 1983 to be near Virginia's family. Within one day of finding a place to live, David had been hired by Allen Canning Co. as a truck driver.

"So many people ... complete strangers came out, cooked food, donated," Virginia said. "It was amazing. I don't think if we'd still been in California we would've had so much support. I really don't."

More than 1,000 people, including military officials, state represen tatives, two busloads of Marines, area residents and family attended the memorial service.
Posthumously, Mike was promoted to lance corporal.

A 21-gun salute and the solemn sound of taps heralded the end of the service at the Oak Hill Cemetery.

"I think it was the hardest thing that we ever did, signing those papers to let him go into the Marines," Virginia said. "If he wanted it bad enough to graduate early at 16, and worked that hard for it, what else could we do?"

Soon after boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Mike visited his family in Oregon, where they had moved for a brief period before coming to Arkansas.

Mike never made it to see the family's new home in Siloam Springs before he was shipped to Beirut from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"After all of this happened, in 1985 or so, the base where he was stationed in Maryland asked if they could name a building after him," David said. "Now, when you walk in the front door, in front of the memorial, there's this picture of him. They said as long as that building was there, his picture would be, too."

Standing next to the highest ranking enlisted Marine in the United States, David was invited to cut the ribbon during the dedication ceremony.

"With four kids at home, I was short on money then, but when I told my boss what they were doing with the building, he said he thought we might be able to work something out," he said. "I took a load up there and went over to the building. Right after it all happened, I took a week off from work, but after that I went back, I couldn't just sit around. They paid me just like I had been there."

Today, a gleaming Purple Heart and other decorations of honor hang on the wall of the Randolphs' home.

Despite the pride the family has for Mike's service to his country, accompanied by the constant reminder of framed photos hanging on walls, Mike is remembered for much more than the time he spent in the Marines and his tragic death.

He loved cross-country track, was idolized by his two younger brothers and two younger sisters and would eat anything placed in front of him. His hazel eyes changed colors depending on the shirt that he wore, Virginia noted.

On family fishing trips to the All American Canal in California, Mike would often pull large fish out of the water.

He was popular in high school and had the time of his life with a friend when he went to Greece on a brief furlough from the military.

Today, the Randolphs have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. They live a quiet, content life in West Siloam Springs.

But they have never forgotten Mike or the sacrifice that he made on Oct. 23, 1983.

"My consolation is that he was a good kid," David said. "I'm a firm believer that when it's your time to go, you're going. I wished it had been longer, but he was here as long as he was supposed to be."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He Planted the Trees and has never forgotten

Sunday, May 24, 2009
Era ends for a Memorial Day veteran
Harold 'Bud' Hohl has been the driving force behind decades of ceremonies in Costa Mesa.

The Orange County Register
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There's a picture that Bud Hohl likes to show off, of a flagpole in a Costa Mesa cemetery. The expanse of empty land behind it stretches to Tustin.

In 1954, when the photo was taken, Harbor Rest Memorial Park asked the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3536 to dedicate the flagpole. Hohl, then a 34-year-old Marine pilot, agreed. One of Orange County's longest stage careers was born.

For five and a half decades, Hohl has been the organizer and MC of Post 3536's annual Memorial Day ceremony. But now, with his health failing, Hohl has stepped down and today's ceremony will be the first he's sitting out since 1978, when he attended a friend's funeral.

"I was told to keep my mouth shut," joked Hohl, 89. "This is the first year I really haven't said something."

He'll be succeeded by Jack Hammett, a former Costa Mesa mayor who spent 22 years in the Navy.

"It's an attitude that all military men accept," Hammett said. "We all learn and accept stepping back and letting the young person take over once you've done your duty. Very well done, thank you, next."

Harold 'Bud' Hohl was mining hard rock in Arizona and caring for his widowed mother before he enlisted in 1942. He joined the Marines as a pilot, thinking that he might be stationed with his brother, also a Marine. (He wasn't.)

During World War II, he flew with the squadron known as the Death Rattlers, shooting down Japanese kamikaze pilots before they could attack the ring of American ships that surrounded the islands of Okinawa. The Death Rattlers were the most decorated squadron of the war, developing sophisticated analytical methods to shoot down 124 Japanese planes. Hohl – known by his fellow pilots as "Loophole" – shot down one of them on his first day.

Over the next 22 years, he spent 7,000 hours flying for the Marines. He flew supplies in the Korean War, and shuttled generals to their golf games during peacetime. He was stationed at El Toro for much of the 1950s, and Orange County became his home.

Whenever somebody asked the local VFW for something, Hohl stepped up.

"He is a person that did everything himself, because he couldn't get anybody else to help him," said Ted Marinos, who has volunteered alongside Hohl for 50 years. "You know how volunteers are."

"Semper Fi," Hohl's son, Bud Jr., explains.

Hohl chuckles. "Yeah, Semper Fi. It was the Marine Corps way of doing things you're asked. I believed in the Marine Corps. And I believed in the VFW. So whatever came along, I took an active role in it. If somebody wanted it done, all they had to do was yell out, 'Hey Loop!'"

He built a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for one Memorial Day ceremony. He built a replica of the Iwo Jima flag raising out of lava rocks. He planted trees in memory of the Marines killed by a terrorist blast in Beirut.

He'd love to still be leading the ceremony. "I'm down to a point where I just have a hard time finding the words," he said. He speaks with long pauses and his eyes closed, and a breathing tube in his nose.

He has dreamed for more than a decade of a large eagle monument in the cemetery. A few years ago, he found the right eagle in an antique store in Spokane, Wash. – a brass-colored statue, 6 feet tall, salvaged from the front of an Argentine bank. The monument is ready for installation once he gets the right text to have printed on its sides. He expects to dedicate it this year.

"That's his ace in the hole, before he leaves his country," Marinos says.

The Costa Mesa Memorial Day ceremony is at 11 a.m. Monday at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park, 1625 Gisler Ave.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7884 or

Monday, May 25, 2009

Marine honors the memory of the fallen

Bear Cieri/Daily News correspondent
Bellingham Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal Stephen Russell.

By Michelle Laczkoski/Daily News staff
Posted May 16, 2009 @ 11:50 PM

To Stephen Russell, Memorial Day marks a day to stop, reflect and give due respect to the heroes who have served America.

Russell is one of those heroes.

The grand marshal of today's Memorial Day parade, Russell will pay tribute to all servicemen, especially his 241 brothers who died beside him in Beirut on a peacekeeping force in 1983.

Russell, who is now a retired Marine, survived a harrowing attack on Oct. 23, 1983, when two truck bombs struck separate buildings in Beirut, where American troops were housed. Of 241 Americans killed, 220 were Marines.

Russell was among the 60 Americans injured in the blasts. Just three weeks before he was set to return home, Russell was taken by medical helicopter from Lebanon with a cracked pelvis, broken femur and hand.

"I shouldn't be alive," Russell, 53, said last week from his kitchen table. "They said I wouldn't walk again. But I was determined to stay."

Just one year later, Russell returned to full duty.

"I fought it, I wanted to continue serving," he said.

Russell, a Bellingham native, promised his wife he would retire from the Marines and secure a comfortable life for his family.

"I loved every second of it except for that one second," he said, referring to the barracks bombing in Beirut.

Following his recovery at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Russell went onto Camp Geiger's School of Infantry. Later, he worked as a drill instructor on Parris Island in South Carolina.

Eventually Russell's injuries from Beirut "caught up" to him.

"I couldn't compete with my peers," he said.

The Marine Corps placed Russell on temporary disability. He retired from the Corps in 1994.

Settling back into civilian life with his wife and two children wasn't easy. It remains a struggle.

"I still feel sore, aches and pains," he said. "I toss and turn all night."

Jim Hastings, chairman of the Memorial and Veterans Day Committee, said the committee unanimously chose Russell to lead the annual parade.

"We wanted to pay honor to Marines who lost their lives in Beirut," Hastings said. "Having someone like that right in our town, he was an obvious choice."

Though Memorial Day "brings back bad memories," a humble Russell said it is vital to pay tribute to the nation's fallen.

"That's what my loyalty is all about, those guys, all 241, the dead," he said.

The parade will feature town officials, police, firefighters, bagpipes and several local high school bands.

Following the procession from the high school to the town common, there will be a ceremony with several speakers at the gazebo.

Russell will also speak and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

"Many gave all, some gave a little and too many gave everything," he said.

Many have forgotten the attack in Beirut, but the terrorist attack is fresh in Russell's mind.

"Everyday, it's here," he said, pointing to his head. "People say, 'Let it go.' I have no desire to let it go. I was a part of it."

Michelle Laczkoski can be reached at or 508-634-7556.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

John Rice Hudson USN Beirut Navy Hero

By Damon Cline

John Rice Hudson, by all accounts, had a promising future.

The 1981 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine had a beautiful wife, a healthy newborn son and dreams of opening a family medical practice in middle Georgia. The 28-year-old Naval lieutenant and physician was well-liked for his easygoing personality and his peers admired his ability to excel at seemingly any task, be it surgery, making music or overhauling a car engine.

But his future was cut short on Oct. 23, 1983, when he and 240 other military personnel stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, were killed when a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden truck into the U.S. Marines' barracks.

The attack – the deadliest single assault on U.S. servicemen since World War II – was largely forgotten by the public until 9-11 brought it back into the American conscience.

In the minds of Dr. Hudson’s family, however, it never faded from memory.

“For 99 percent of Americans, terrorism started on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Dr. Hudson’s son, Will, who was 8 months old when his father died. “For my mom and me, terrorism started on Oct. 23, 1983.”


Dr. Hudson was the eldest of Samuel and Losie Hudson’s three children. The family moved often during his father’s 23-year career in the U.S. Army, where he was a decorated veteran of the Korea and Vietnam wars.

The family eventually settled in Fayette County near Atlanta, where Dr. Hudson met David Anders, a fellow trombone player in the elementary school band. The two remained best friends through high school and were inseparable as roommates at the University of Georgia and MCG, which Dr. Hudson paid for through a Navy scholarship that required him to enlist after medical school.

Dr. Anders, who now practices internal medicine in Fayette County, said Dr. Hudson had an extraordinary personality.

“He enjoyed life to the fullest and wanted everyone to come along for the ride,” he said. “When you get together with people and talk about John, even 25 years later, you can’t get two or three minutes before somebody has a big belly laugh over something he did.”

His antics, including wearing a gorilla suit to the student center and strolling into his anatomy finals playing his trombone, tested the patience of administrators but provided comic relief to his stressed-out classmates.

“His friends have told me he was the guy who made everyone loosen up and enjoy themselves,” Will said.

Those who knew him cited an almost childlike innocence.

“John had a real dry sense of humor, but he was a very caring person” said Dr. Bob Parrish, former MCG chief of pediatric surgery and founding member of Code 99, a band Dr. Hudson played with for two years.

Dr. Hudson was a sophomore in 1979 when he met his future wife, Lisa, at an Augusta night spot. He had gone to pick up an amplifier he loaned to a friend but ended up staying once he saw the 23-year-old registered nurse from Milledgeville, Ga. He called her the next day and the two hit if off immediately.

“He was so unpretentious,” Lisa recalled. “He was probably the smartest man I've ever known, but he was so unpretentious about it.”

The two discussed marriage, but Dr. Hudson initially wanted to put off a wedding date until after completing his military commitment.

“He made up his mind he was going to complete medical school and pay back his time to the Navy before he settled down,” Lisa said. “But I interrupted that process.”

The two were married on Sept. 13, 1980, with Dr. Anders as best man.

“I lost a good roommate,” Dr. Anders said. “But she got a good one.”


Dr. Hudson enlisted in the Navy, which provides health care services to the U.S. Marine Corps, after completing the first year of his residency at MCG. The newlyweds moved to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., where Will was born on Feb. 15, 1983.

Having grown up an Army brat, Dr. Hudson was comfortable with military service. However, he was far from the average recruit.

Will recalled one particular story relayed to him by his father's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Larry Gerlach, whose injuries during the barracks bombing made him a paraplegic.

“My dad would drive the officers crazy because he wouldn't put his boots on,” Will said. “He told them, 'These boots are putting blisters on my feet. If I was seeing a patient who had blisters like these, I would tell him to stop wearing these boots.' My dad was a doctor first and foremost.”

Dr. Hudson's service was uneventful until then-President Ronald Reagan ordered the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment to participate in a multinational peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, which was in the midst of a civil war.

He left for Beirut on April 9, 1983. The Marines set up their headquarters at the Beirut International Airport and were initially successful at preventing attacks from militant factions operating in the country.

However, as the year wore on, it became clear to Dr. Hudson that militants were becoming increasingly confrontational.

“Rockets and artillery are coming into our area but we don’t shoot back because we’re not supposed to be in a war, but we are in a war,” he said in a taped message to his wife on Sept. 5. “We’re in a combat war zone.”


Randy Gaddo was a 30-year-old staff sergeant and combat correspondent when he served in Beirut, which many of the 1,200 Marines referred to as “The Root.”

He said Dr. Hudson was well-known around the compound.

“Everybody knew who the battalion surgeon was,” said Mr. Gaddo, who now lives in Peachtree City, Ga. “All the medical people were considered very special people, but he was the only qualified doc on shore. The other guys were called docs, but they were really medical techs.”

Most of Dr. Hudson’s skills went unused early in the deployment. On one recording he said he was unable to practice “99 percent of the knowledge” he learned in medical school. Even depression was rare among the troops.

“They like being Marines and they like the job they have to do,” he said. “They motivate themselves. I’m really impressed with them.”

However, Dr. Hudson became concerned about his fellow troops – and his own wellbeing – as the skirmishes intensified. Marines no longer came to his basement clinic with sore throats and earaches; they now had bullet and shrapnel wounds. In an Aug. 31, 1983 postcard to Dr. Anders, he said he was worried about “coming home in a box or altered state,” and that “things are so different here, more than anything you could ever imagine.”

And he continued to express his dismay at the rules of engagement. Weapons were constantly pointed at the Marines, but they were prohibited from actively engaging the enemy unless fired upon. Dr. Hudson wrote about the futility to Sen. Sam Nunn, then chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.

In one of Dr. Hudson’s last communications, a tape sent to a freelance reporter in Atlanta, he referred to the troops as “sitting pigeons.”

“We actually can watch them build a bunker by day, see them put ammunition into the bunker, and you know what’s going on,” he said on the tape. “They can kill, maim, seriously injure Marines and sailors, and then – once they’ve shot – you have the option of shooting back.”

Dr. Hudson reunited with his wife and 6-month-old son in Greece while on leave from the base from Aug. 20-28. It was the last time they would see him.


The Root was peaceful during early dawn on Oct. 23, 1983. The cacophony of distant artillery fire had fallen silent.

At around 6 a.m. Staff Sgt. Gaddo had stepped outside his bunker to enjoy the morning sun before walking to the barracks, where he planned to develop eight rolls of film in a makeshift photo lab on the second floor.

“I started walking over there – it was less than a minute’s walk, maybe a couple hundred yards – then I just stopped,” he said. “It was just such a beautiful morning, very quiet. I just thought it was too good of a morning to go inside, so I turned around and went back to get a cup of coffee.”

The decision saved his life.

At approximately 6:20 a.m., a truck packed with explosives accelerated through the compound’s gate, barreling past two sentry posts and another gate before crashing into the lobby of the barracks. The Marines, under strict rules of engagement, barely had time to load and shoulder their weapons before the suicide bomber detonated explosives equivalent to six tons of TNT.

“I heard a couple of shots go off, then I felt the heat of the blast,” Mr. Gaddo said. “The shock wave threw me back like a rag doll. I thought we had been hit by an artillery shell.”

Those not killed by the blast were crushed when the four-story, reinforced-concrete building collapsed into a heap of rubble.

Seven time zones to the west, the sun had set on suburban Atlanta. Earlier that day, Dr. Anders proposed to his girlfriend, Kenya, in Stone Mountain, Ga. He had alluded to the pending engagement in letters to Dr. Hudson, and had asked his childhood friend to be best man at the wedding.

He went to sleep that night unaware his friend was already dead.

“I was getting into bed shortly after midnight and my sister mentioned something about a bombing in Beirut,” Dr. Anders recalled. “I was just hoping that it wasn’t going to be too much work for John – that he didn’t have to do too much triage. Later we learned it was much worse, that the whole compound had been attacked.”

Recovering the bodies took several days. Dr. Hudson was found on day two, inside his sleeping bag.

Ms. Hudson feared her husband was dead the moment she saw news footage of the destruction. Those fears were confirmed by a visit from two Naval officers.

“They came up to the door, just like they do in the movies,” she recalled.

Her husband’s body was returned to the United States two weeks later and buried at her family’s dairy farm south of Milledgeville, an area where he hoped to one day build a home and practice medicine.

The U.S. government ruled in 2003 that the attack was carried out by the militant Islamic group Hezbollah with backing from the Iranian government.

Military analysts say the attack was America’s first brush with “fourth-generation warfare,” in which ideologically motivated insurgents use guerrilla tactics and civilian populations to create tactical dilemmas for an enemy. The insurgents’ strategy is to achieve victory not through superior military strength, but by convincing the enemy’s political leaders that victory is either unachievable or not worth the human toll.

President Reagan withdrew the troops less than five months after the attack.

“We pulled out, so in a way, it showed them their tactics worked,” said Mr. Gaddo, currently the national president of the Beirut Veterans Association. “It was really a modern-day watershed event. We’ve seen identical elements in the wars after 9-11.”

Will met Mr. Nunn for the first time at a charity event in Atlanta last year. To his surprise, the former senator remembered the letter his father wrote 25 years ago.

“He said, ‘That letter will haunt me for the rest of my life,’” Will recalled. “He said, ‘Your dad was exactly right. He knew exactly what was going on.’ ”


A scholarship fund was started in Dr. Hudson’s name shortly after his death, and in 1987, the clinic at the U.S. Naval Supply School in Athens was renamed in his honor.

The building’s plaque rekindled memories in Dr. Sam Richwine, a 1977 MCG graduate who completed his surgical internship and residency at MCG.

“It finally rang a bell that John Hudson had been an intern of mine when I was a general surgery chief there,” said Dr. Richwine, a plastic surgeon in Gainesville, Ga.

The Athens native hopes the memorial remains after the 58-acre Naval School property is transferred to the University System of Georgia in 2011 for use as an MCG-UGA medical campus. (Damon: Is there any question? If so, STET.)

“I think it would be great if we were somehow able to keep that name somewhere on campus,” he said, “not only to honor John as an MCG grad, but also the gift of his life to the country.”

Ms. Hudson never remarried.

“I’ve never had another best friend like him,” she said. “I miss my friend more than I miss my husband.”

She and Will moved from Milledgeville to Augusta, where she worked as a nurse until completing MCG’s psychiatric nursing program in 1995. The training allowed her to open a counseling practice for women with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Setting her own schedule gave her the flexibility to attend Will’s sporting events and other school functions.

“He's the reason I'm alive, that's the truth,” she said. “Every day that I got up after that was because I had him to take care of. He was my motivation to move on.”

Will, who married in June, recently started a professional recruitment firm, Complete Recruiting Solutions LLC in Atlanta. He also has political aspirations, which stem directly from the loss of his father.

“I think some of our leaders make decisions without really thinking about the impact they may have,” he said. “When you know what it feels like when those decisions go bad, it makes you think a little more carefully and thoughtfully.”

Several of Dr. Hudson’s friends stay in touch with his widow and son, including classmate Dr. Allan Panter, a Gainesville, Ga., resident who practices emergency medicine.

He said Dr. Hudson would be proud of his son.

“I can’t say enough about Lisa’s parenting,” said Dr. Panter, who dropped in to visit Will at Furman University whenever he was passing through. “Will is well-rounded; he seems to be a complete package.”

For Dr. Panter, spending time with Will is almost like spending time with the young man’s father. Almost.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to meet anybody like John Hudson,” he said. “If you ever meet someone like him in your lifetime, you’re fortunate.”