CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The 1983 terrorist attacks on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 241 American servicemembers and sent shockwaves through the Marine community.
The official national monument that honors those fallen servicemembers stands only minutes from the Camp Lejeune front gate and tells the world a short, humble message: “They came in peace.”
Approximately 30 Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group visited the Beirut Memorial Oct. 11, to ensure – even 29 years later – the legacy of the attacks and the mission in Lebanon remains strong in the minds of today’s generation.
“It was a traumatic time for the Marine Corps,” said Richard L. Ray, a retired gunnery sergeant who served at Camp Lejeune at the time of the bombings. “Whether it is one, two or 241, it is like you got a body blow to the stomach when you hear something like that.”
Ray worked at the public affairs office on Camp Lejeune the day the attacks occurred. As soon as he learned about the scope of the event, he immediately put on his uniform and reported to his post, where his days blended into his nights as he worked “day on, stay on.”
He joined the Marines on the ground in Lebanon shortly thereafter.
“It had been 14 years since I felt a round go down range,” said Ray, a combat veteran who served three tours in Vietnam. “I can honestly tell you that those 14 years mentally never existed by the time I got to Beirut. Everything I learned popped right back into my head.”
Ray even escorted media through some of the areas known to be threatened by enemy snipers. His role landed him on the front page of a magazine, which questioned the involvement of the U.S. military in Lebanon.
Ray saw a different attitude emerge from the American public. One that signaled a lasting change in how the military and civilian communities interacted.
“We got hundreds and hundreds of packages and letters every day to take out on the line,” said Ray, who said he passed out the overwhelming numbers of correspondence to his fellow Marines. “In Beirut we saw it, and it registered that the American public’s opinion of servicemembers was taking a turn for the better. It’s been that way ever since.”
The overwhelming support from people in the states struck Ray especially hard. He said it was the first time in 14 years that he truly felt the American public’s presence with the troops in combat.
The Beirut bombing meant just as much to the Marines still at Camp Lejeune, where Ray saw large numbers of recently retired servicemembers return to active duty as the base responded to the crisis.
Ray was especially touched to learn the community launched a campaign to build a monument for those killed in the bombing.
“Awareness is key,” said 1st Sgt. Laureano Perez, the first sergeant of Headquarters Company, CLB-6, who organized the trip to the Beirut Memorial. “It’s one of the bloodiest losses of Marines, and it’s something that they need to know so they can pass it on to their Marines … it’s something that we shouldn’t forget.”
After 23 years in the Marine Corps, Ray felt the same and rededicated his time to ensuring the memory of Lebanon is passed on to each generation of Marines.
“You understand too,” said Ray as he asked the Marines of CLB-6 about their own experiences in Afghanistan. “I was always one of those who wanted to sit at the front of the bus to see what was going on.”
He thanked them for doing the same.
The Marines with CLB-6 lined up in front of the memorial as Ray finished his presentation and shook his hand. They laid flowers at the memorial as they left to honor the memory of the lives lost.