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thedrifter
11-13-03, 07:03 AM
Beirut vet tries again to organize local chapter
November 12,2003
CYNDI BROWN
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Since Jacksonville is home to the Beirut Memorial, Richard Ray thinks it's only fitting that the city is also home to a chapter of the Beirut Veterans of America.

"I think there ought to be one here," said Ray, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. "That's where the memorial is."

A meeting to form a local chapter of the organization dedicated to keeping alive the memory of those who died during the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon is set for 7 tonight at the Disabled American Veterans chapter hall, 301 Roosevelt Drive.

All Beirut veterans and family members are invited.

Ray, who is trying to gauge interest in forming a chapter, served as the BVA's local liaison for this year's service marking the 20th anniversary of the suicide bombing in Beirut, which claimed 241 lives on Oct. 23, 1983.

He is also a Beirut veteran.

Ray had served three tours in Vietnam. His mother, convinced he was pushing his luck, never thought her son would make it back to the United States after leaving for Lebanon and arriving in Beirut as part of "Dog Team" nine days after the bombing.

"Mentally, it was like I got on the plane in Da Nang and got off in Beirut. The combat atmosphere was there. It was like déj vu," said Ray, who did come back - for his mother's funeral about a month later.

Ray joined BVA about four years ago. The organization, however, was formed in 1992. Its motto, "The first duty is to remember," also describes its mission.

"The idea is to perpetuate the memory of those who died," said Ray.

Regular membership is open to those who served in the armed forces in Lebanon and with supporting units from June 1958 through March 1984.

Affiliate membership is for those who served in the armed forces, but not in Lebanon, and want to support the organization.

Associate membership is open to anyone who would like to support BVA. The organization has nearly 700 members across the country.

"They're dotted all over the country, and the one place there should be one is here," said

In the past, Ray tried to drum up interest in a local chapter without much luck.

He thought the time was right to try again, especially with the high levels of participation in the events surrounding October's annual memorial service.

Ray has no firm feel for how many people will show up or are even interested.

"If people can't make it, they can at least call me," said Ray. "The more accurate the numbers, the better off I'll be."

While the first meeting is primarily to gauge interest, Ray has been in contact with members of the national organization to find out the particulars of starting a chapter.

"If the interest is there, we'll elect officers and we'll be off and running," said Ray.

Those who show up, he said, can expect to be members of an active organization.

"We're not going to be an organization with their hand out," Ray said. "We're going to be involved."

The first subject he'd like to tackle is the lack of a stamp honoring troops killed in the Beirut attack.

"I think a chapter here would have a little more influence with politicians on the stamp," said Ray. "Why can't we have a stamp for the guys who died in Beirut?

"It just doesn't seem right that we don't have one."

For more information on joining the Beirut Veterans of America, contact Ray at 389-5186.


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Sempers,

Roger
:marine: