“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

― Frank Herbert

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Oct 23, 1983.

Today is the anniversary of the bombing that destroyed the Marine barracks at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.  I always go somewhere peaceful on this day, even if it's just up the mountain to a place where I can see way out across the Smokies.  I'm sure they will have a ceremony at Camp Lejeune, out by the Headquarters of 2nd Marine Division.  That's where the Beirut Memorial is, right by the New River inlet. It's a pretty place with big oak trees all around it.

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 .

 All this started when the Israelis got tired of the terrorists coming across the border out of Lebanon and murdering their citizens. These "Palestine Liberation Organization" types were about as low as you can get. They liked to ambush school buses so they could kill the teachers and kids, they hit schools because killing kids made more news headlines. They never tangled with the IDF because they didn't have the courage to do that. Instead, they broke into apartment complexes and killed whole families. They liked to brag about killing pregnant Jewish women because they "got two with one bullet." The PLO had originally set up in Jordan, but they messed with the wrong people when they started throwing their weight around in the Jordanian villages. The Jordanian Army, which is small but primarily Bedouin,  beat the hell out of them and ran them out of the country. So they went to Lebanon, where there was no real government, and took over big chunks of that country. Then they started operating there. Israel went after them and stacked them up like cord wood when they could move fast enough to catch them. The PLO leadership distinguished itself by taking the funds given them to feed their units, and fleeing. The PLO "fighters" displayed a remarkable ability to throw away their weapons and do long distance sprints in their Chinese tennis shoes. Finally what was left of the PLO held up in Beirut, hoping the Israelis wouldn't come in after them.


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.


The rest of it is just history. We lost 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors that Sunday morning.   Reagan didn't want it to look like we got run out by the Iranians, so he sent in a new unit.  We got tougher and later I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the U.S.S. New Jersey use it's sixteen inch guns on some of the most deserving of the gangs there. The French bombed an Iranian training base in the Beka valley to dust. But we never did anything to get payback on the Iranians.  There was a "cover your ass" inquiry, the Long Commission, in which the State Department was white washed and the commanders on the ground held responsible for what happened. The fact that all the bad decisions were made by oily, arrogant, self serving  civilians in air conditioned offices far from the fighting , and forced on the Colonels commanding troops, was conveniently forgotten.  Now the whole thing has been forgotten.

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.




25 comments:

  1. We all know the State Dept is a joke then and now. Today is another sad day in American history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just resent the way it's been blanked out of our history. I understand why, but it's a mistake to just look at the things that worked out. You learn more from things that go wrong. Our government never learns anything. Now they just give the Secretary of State job to any lame brain like Hillary Clinton as part of political deals. It wasn't always that way.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the background story, its something that we never see told. I was 15 when it happened and always had the idea that Reagan got caught with his pants down but that was the extent of my knowledge of the behind the scenes background.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At least you knew it happened. I once stood at the doorway of a McDonalds and asked 20 people if they had heard of the Beirut bombing one anniversary. Nobody had and the manager came out and asked me to stop because he said some of the customers were scared of me. I guess they thought I was crazy.

      Delete
  3. I was only 7 when this happened. That's a year younger than my oldest child is now. I pretty much hide the really bad things that happen from him. I imagine that my parents were the same with me. Except for the Challenger that blew up. That was unavoidable. I was watching it live in science class. I talked to our oldest about Sandy Hook just to make sure at school he knew what to do, where to go if someone awful came into his school.

    Thanks for the history on this! A great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's no harm in keeping bad things from children until they are old enough to understand what the world is really like.

      Delete
  4. I was in AIT when that all went down. I remember the cadre sergeants saying something similar about the chosen site as you explained here but after the fact.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everybody knew it was a bad place to be, but there was nothing to be done. That whole operation was controlled, root and branch, by the State Department.

      Delete
  5. Harry - is it ok to say that i wish no Marines were involved in this mess?!?!?!? i have no words...other than to say that i thank you for your service and sacrifice...this all must weigh very heavily on your soul.

    i don't know what else to say. and thank you sounds so trite. but thank you for sharing your personal story about this awful day in history. your friend,
    kymber

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kymber, I volunteered to go down there. I wanted to go in the absolute worst way. There was one slot for that job as a temporary duty. Every officer in Naples below the rank of Major volunteered for it, including the officers at the Marine Barracks. I got it because I had the right background and because my Chief of Staff had a good relationship with the 6th Fleet COS.

      It's the old story, be careful what you ask for because you just might get it. You can't "unvolunteer" once the deed is done.

      Delete
  6. exceptionally well written, informative and thought-provoking... you articulate the facts and your feelings perfectly.

    i am sorry you had to experience the event and the shameful aftermath.

    your friend,
    jambaloney

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I keep hoping we find out the Iranians are building nukes when we have a man and not a cardboard cutout for President. They'll get theirs, I just hope I live long enough to see it.

      Delete

    2. Unfortunately we will most likely only confirm it when they nuke Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or perhaps when they pop an EMP over our heads.

      Delete
    3. The Israelis will light them up. Israel won't wait until there's a fireball over Tel Aviv. And when they do, all the countries in the world will talk about how terrible the Israelis are, at the same time they are quietly saying "good job" behind the scenes. It'll be the Osiris Reactor raid all over again. Who knows, we might get a President who has some brains and some courage and we might take them out. God knows we're overdue for a decent leader in the oval office. I don't care who does it as long as the Mullahs and the Revolutionary Guard get fried.

      Delete
  7. I remember this happening. I was 13. But like most every one over here, I never knew the background to it. So Thank You Harry for the post and the history lesson. I can't imagine your feelings once you learned of this tragedy, and the thought of losing so many "Brothers" ..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glock Mom,

      I just feel angry that nobody seems to remember it anymore. I realize that is not logical. I also feel angry that the Iranians got away with it. But as I told J, their day is coming.

      Delete
  8. You are not alone, good man, not alone. Many of us DO remember it. I also remember hearing the 'news' coming out of the State Dept and Time and USNews and knowing they were lying about so many things. They were more interested in blame. And dammit, not a single thing has changed in all these years! They are still lying to us about what's happening over there & we still have clueless pols running there for picture opportunities & when someone dies - they lie to us some more. God help us - even though we may no longer deserve it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does seem that this kind of event repeats itself. One reason I live way out where i do is to get away from having to be aware of it. Paradoxically, I watch the news and spend a considerable sum on insuring I can do so. Lack of will power on my part I suppose.

      Delete
  9. I've rewritten this comment a few times, and I keep thinking that you have a knack for history. Thanks for another great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also forgot to add my thanks for your service, and happy that you weren't there at the time.

      Delete
    2. It's nice of you to say so.

      I think life is purely random. It's just the way it worked out.

      Delete
  10. thanks. never knew the truth. knew that we'd heard lies from the gov't. though.
    only God can save us.
    what i hate is other countries hating us thinking we're doing evil, when it's the gov't. over whom we cannot seem to get any control.
    whomever you vote for turns the minute he breathes washington air. if anyone decent runs he is neatly gotten rid of by the time election rolls around.
    however, you can only have so many fleas on a dog until it is drained dry of blood and dies.
    our 'dog', the usa, is about dry.
    people keep pointing fingers at the 'entitlement' underclasses but the drain is in washington. the underclasses are just a scapegoat useful for misdirection of our attention, used by politicians.
    herrick kimball has an interesting article in the sidebar of his blog at the picture of sergeant york. you might glance at it. makes steam come out you ears.
    deb harvey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be honest with you about the issue of other countries. I agree with the Roman emperor who said "let them hate us as long as they fear us."

      Strange you should say that about the corrupting influence of D.C. I was out for a drive in the woods yesterday,and I was thinking of Randy Cunningham for some reason. He was our top fighter ace in the Viet Nam War. But after the war, he went into politics, became a Representative, got submerged by the D.C. culture and finally wound up in prison for taking gifts from contractors who hoped to influence his vote. If even a person like him can't stay clean up there, I wonder if anyone can.

      Thanks for the suggestion on the link, I'll certainly take a look at it.

      Delete
  11. Thanks for the article, Harry. It's the first I've read from someone who was there and knew what was going on. I found the book in the Wyoming library system, at another county's library, and ordered it via inter library loan. Public libraries are still a great resource!

    ReplyDelete
  12. You have good libraries. Mine is full of trashy yellow press novels. People go through them with a felt tip marker and censor all the really terrible words like "damn." There is a big sign on the wall that says "please do not censor the books" but the self appointed guardians of public decency do it anyway. I think if you read Distant Valor you'll get a real flavor for how convoluted and frustrating Lebanon was. Thanks for the comment.

    ReplyDelete