Very few people remember that incident today. I looked at the news pages and didn't see any mention of the event this morning. My brother , who was also a Marine, sent me an email he got from another Marine we both know. It was a clipping from some off the wall news page. The whole article was one paragraph long and it just said the bombing was the result of lax security, which is an outright lie. That's what the Long Commission said after the investigation, but that was also the full responsibility of the U.S. State Department, which mandated that the sentries had unloaded weapons least we injure some Lebanese .
The IDF did go after them, but there were meeting engagements between the Israelis and the Syrians, and in the U.S. the Democrats started wringing their hands and saying this was dreadful, how could the world let the poor Arabs be so mistreated? The IDF, on the other hand, had little inclination to go into the rats nest warren that was Beirut. Nobody likes fighting in a built up area, especially when you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys.
So, a deal was worked out by the U.S. State Department, the PLO, and the Israeli foreign ministry. The PLO would leave their weapons, but would be evacuated to Arab countries. In the U.S. military this was viewed with outright disbelief. Here the IDF had these subhumans cornered, why not finish them off ? But in Israel people were raising hell about causalities, and the Israeli government was worried about the effects of an IDF occupation of an Arab capitol.
So Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. sent troops in to supervise the evacuation. The Brits sent a little armored recon outfit equipped with Ferret armored cars. There weren't many of them but they were stout friends. The French sent a Foreign Legion outfit, and from the very beginning they took no abuse from anybody. Say what you will about the French, their professional soldiers kick a** and take names. Italy sent Marines and Paratroops, very well trained and motivated soldiers who always seemed to get along with all the different factions. Their Colonel once faced off a band of militia thugs who were about to murder some unarmed Lebanese. He just had a pistol and his driver had a rifle, but he stopped the murders and sent the militia men packing. We sent our Marines. Marines are assault troops and a poor choice for "Peace Keeping" but they were already there, since there is always a full MAU aboard ship in the Med at any time. The evacuation went smoothly enough and everyone thought that would be the end of it.
But almost immediately the Christian president of the Lebanese government, Bashir Gemayel, was killed in a bombing,( he was giving a speech to a large group of young girls belonging to the Phalange Women's Association and the Moslems blew the building up). The whole country collapsed into utter chaos and anarchy. You have to understand, to understand any of this, that Lebanon was just a bunch of factions, each with it's own militia. There were PLO remnants, PLO splinter groups, the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, the different Moslem militias like AMAL, the Druze, the Lebanese government, the Christian militias, the Phalange, and all the other dogs and ponies.Then there were the Syrians, the Iranians, and the MNF (multinational force) all mixed in as well.
When the PLO was evacuated, they left behind refugee camps full of women, children and old people because they abandoned their families and the others they had "sworn" to protect in order to save their own butts. These camps were in the Israeli zone. After the bombing that killed Gemayel , the Christian militia, the Phalange, went into two of the camps and exterminated the occupants. No one was spared, right down to babies in their mothers arms. That 's the kind of place Lebanon was. The Israelis didn't know what was going on until it was too late, because they didn't have troops in the camps for obvious reasons. Everyone seems to blame Israel for the massacres but if you understand what a Dante's Inferno Lebanon was, you will understand how this could and did happen.
So the multinational peacekeeping force, as it was called, got sent back in. From the beginning the Department of State ran the show without any concern for practical military considerations at all. A fat, greasy Lebanese American named Philip Habib was the big boss. His whole purpose in life was to get famous. He had a group of toadies who slavishly carried out his every whim, no matter what it might mean for the troops on the ground. When the Marine commander wanted to set up on high ground in the Marine area of operations, Habib mandated that they be placed in and around a bunch of shot to hell buildings down on the airport, next to the beach highway. Utterly indefensible, with civilian traffic flowing right by the base, and a perfect target for whoever did have the high ground to shoot from. But Habib thought it looked less "aggressive."
Every single decision had to be run through the State Department and their sole consideration was pulling off some great diplomatic coup. They had no concept of military operations or even of the situation on the ground.
Then the Lebanese army, which was really an adjunct of the Christian militias, got tangled up with the Druze in some worthless village, and they got pounded. Against the advice of the Marine commanders on the ground, the State Department had the Navy shell the Druze from the sea. We had quite a fleet off shore, and there were Brits and French naval vessels out there as well. But once we shelled the Druze, then all the other militias, holy warriors, and miscellaneous bandit gangs, decided we were "taking sides" on the part of the Christians and things started going down hill fast.
Different factions began to attack the Marines. At first, it was patrols in the USMC area of operations being attacked by snipers or grenade throwers. Then it started to become an issue of small arms fire into the Marine base. Then it went on to artillery fire and automatic weapons like heavy machine guns. The AMAL would fire mortars into the base and we would fire back illumination flares over their mortar positions. The State Department didn't want us to hurt any of the shooters. There was a constant stream of Senators and Representatives into the base when it was quiet. The Marines built a special little sandbag wall with steps behind it so the dignitaries could be photographed wearing flak jackets and helmets, useful props for their pictures. Then they'd fly out again really quickly before anything unpleasant happened. The Druze started firing artillery into the camp from that high ground that Philip Habib had kept the Marines off of.
The Marines started taking causalities, but they weren't even getting combat pay because back in the states, the government of Ronald Reagan, which was clueless about the situation there, didn't want people to think our troops were in a fighting situation. They maintained that fiction for a long time.
In the end, Iran's proxy force in Lebanon, Hezbollah, drove a big truck loaded with fuel tanks and explosives into the barracks on a Sunday morning and blew it up. The barracks was a big, hollow building with rooms around the four sides and a giant empty space in the middle. It was a perfect target. In accordance with the guidelines of the State Department, the place was virtually undefended because even then, after events had deteriorated to the point that it was a war zone, the dome heads in D.C. couldn't grasp that. Even after the bombing, when we had so many critically wounded, the State Department couldn't leave it alone. Israel immediately offered to let us fly our wounded to their superb medical facilities for treatment. It would have been a thirty minute trip. But the white shirt, black tie suit crowd in D.C. said no, that would make it look like we were supporting Israel. So instead those causalities had to be airlifted to Cyprus with local assets from the fleet, (the airport was all torn to pieces and not operational) and from there flown to German hospitals on U.S.A.F. Nightingale med evac aircraft. As a result, some that could have been saved died because they did not get to the medical facilities soon enough.
When the barracks was bombed, I was not there. The bombing was on a Sunday. The preceding Thursday, the Colonel I worked for asked me if I wanted to catch a ride back to Naples on the U.S.S. Puget Sound. She was going to Naples to pick up a load of parts (Puget Sound was a tender), and he said I could go stay with my wife for a couple of days and then come back when the ship did.
We had a little villa out on the beach. There wasn't any television or telephone in our villa, but I had a radio and I got up Sunday morning and tuned it to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. We just had a radio station in Naples, run by a Navy Chief. They were talking about the bombing and that's how I found out what happened.
First I couldn't believe it. That lasted about 20 seconds. Then I felt such a wave of hatred I couldn't breath. I still feel that way about Islam and that will never change.
|Off Sidon, Lebanon , U.S.S. Puget Sound 1982. Puget Sound was the 6th Fleet Flagship at the time.|
|U.S. Naval Units off Beirut, 1983|
|Cobra gunships. The State Department didn't want them used. It might convey the wrong impression.|
|This van was located directly behind the barracks. My duties took me there frequently. The OIC was an old acquaintance whom I did not much care for.|
|This picture was taken the week before the bombing.|
There aren't many books on the "intervention" in Lebanon. The Marine Corps put out a chronological history, Colonel Geraghty, the Marine Amphibious Unit commander, wrote a book about it. The best book I've read about Beirut was written by a Marine non-commisioned officer after he got out of the service. It's had to find, but you can get it on Amazon for around three dollars. That's how much demand there is for histories of that event. It's a novel, but it is the best way I know to get a feel for the political manipulation, the confusion, and how the Marines on the ground felt about it.