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."

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