View Full Version : Mother recalls tragic period: Anniversary of son's death in Beirut near

10-19-06, 09:44 AM
Mother recalls tragic period: Anniversary of son's death in Beirut near
By Cathianne Werner-Porterfield, Milford Chronicle

MILFORD - When summer temperatures and warm breezes give way to crisp fall days, it takes Joan Muffler back to a week in October 1983 and a horrible event she and the parents and loved ones of 241 American servicemen wished had never happened.

"The change in the weather kind of reminds me what took place," Mrs. Muffler said. "It does get easier as the years go on. It does get a little bit easier but it never goes away."

It was 23 years ago on Oct. 23 when a suicide bomber driving a yellow Mercedes-Benz delivery truck loaded with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of explosives drove into U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters at Beirut International Airport killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three Army soldiers.

Because the servicemen were on a "peace-keeping" mission, they were unable to fire upon the truck or its driver, whom one Marine survivor said was "smiling" as he crashed into the lobby of the four-story cinderblock building.

"These Marines were not allowed to have bullets in their guns," Mrs. Muffler said. "They had to ask if they could shoot back. These were the rules of engagement at the time."

The Sunday morning bombing was almost immediately televised and the Mufflers, who were residents of Bucks County, Pa., at the time, learned of the tragedy as they watched the morning news, a ritual in their household.

"We heard there was an explosion and a lot of casualties," she said.

The news program offered a phone number that families could call.

"The first thing I did was call my oldest son in the Army," she said.

She told him she thought her son "Johnny's building had been blown up."

But her oldest son said he believed his younger brother was "in the field" and therefore safe.

"That settled me down for a few hours," she said.

And then she started making phone calls again.

"This went on from Sunday to Thursday," she said.

On Thursday, one of her son's friends called and said they thought they had seen Johnny's face during a broadcast of Marines cleaning up the site of the bombing.

So Mrs. Muffler went to the television station in Philadelphia and reviewed the tape.

It was not her son.

"Marines look alike," she said. "I thought it looked like him, but I didn't think it was him."

That's when she was told by a neighbor that a group of Marines were outside her front door.

"I was home within a couple of hours and they all came back," she said. "They had to report that he was missing and assumed he was in the building, but they weren't sure."

But by 7:30 a.m. Saturday, they were sure.

"They told us he had been identified," she said.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Johnny Muffler, 19, was dead.

Within two weeks, her son's body was on its way to Dover and he was buried in the veterans' section of a community cemetery in Bucks County, Pa.

These scenes replay in her mind.

"They could not have treated us better," she said. "The cemetery offered the ground and there was such a big turnout. When the procession went by, as we went through each township, the police would pick it up."

A relative shared with Mrs. Muffler something they overheard that day.

"Somebody very important must have died," she said.

And he was important, as were the other Marines and the terrible emotions suffered by all their parents.

So Mrs. Muffler sat down and wrote a letter to "Dear Abby."

"She called me up and I asked for her help to try and get the families together," she said. "She put it in the papers and then we started getting all these letters from the families who also wanted to contact each other."

The parents quickly organized and took up a cause to preserve the memory of their sons through such projects as memorials and a postage stamp.

And although memorials are scattered across the country, they were never able to have a memorial stamp produced, something that frustrates Mrs. Muffler to this day.

Although the parents were incredibly active in this effort and carried petitions to Washington where they met with the postmaster general, there request was never honored.

"We took boxes of petitions to Washington and they said, 'no more petitions,'" she said.

She still has the letter from Postmaster General Marvin Runyon indicating why they would not issue a stamp based on a policy to not commemorate tragedies or disasters.

It left her confused as she researched the existence of Civil War, Vietnam War and other stamps recognizing conflicts.

The group discussed changes to the stamps and called senators, representatives and presidents over the years.

"They all want to help, but nothing ever comes of it," she said.

But the families do not forget, and each year they gather at reunions in Camp Lejune, N.C. and Arlington National Cemetery and services are held on bases in many parts of the country.

A veterans group has now stepped forward and taken up the stamp cause.

They have a Web site at www.beirut-memorial.org.

"I thought I'd step back," she said. "They have been doing a great job and they have a petition."

And while she continues to mourn her son and think of the parents who lost their sons on that day, a new threat to servicemen and women is also on her mind now.

"I just know that I'm doing better as the years go on," she said. "But every time I hear what's going on in Iraq, the parents come to my mind and I really get an ache in my heart for them going through what the Beirut parents went through."

And when she picked up her newspaper and saw a photo of 19-year-old Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard Chad Clifton, of Milford, she couldn't help but pick up the phone and call his mother, Terry Clifton.

Also, a Marine, slightly built and 19 years old, she might as well have been reading about her son.

"The only thing that held me together was that (being a Marine) was my son's desire," she said. "We talk and I know exactly what she's going through."

She said she hopes the stamp honoring these Beirut Marines could soon become a reality as the 25th anniversary of the bombing approaches.

"I just hope they always remember our peacekeepers," she said.

Post your opinions on the public issues forum at www.newszap.com.

News editor Cathianne Werner-Porterfield can be reached at 422-1200 or cporterfield@newszap.com.


10-23-06, 07:37 AM
Posted on Mon, Oct. 23, 2006

Manatee remembers Beirut barracks attack
Truck-bomb explosion killed 241 soldiers, Marines 23 years ago today
Herald Staff Writer

Manatee remembers Beirut barracks attack: Truck-bomb explosion killed 241 soldiers, Marines 23 years ago today

PALMETTO - The young Marine still vividly remembers the blast years ago that knocked him out of bed.

Bryan Westrick was stationed in Beirut with the international peacekeeping force Oct. 23, 1983, when a truck-bomb explosion ripped through a nearby barracks, killing 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers, and wounding more than 100 others.

"I was trying to get those last 2-3 minutes of sleep," he said. "It blew me 10 feet off my cot."

Twenty-three years later, Westrick was one of the more than 130 people in attendance at a memorial service held in Sutton Park on Sunday to honor those who were killed.

He remembered he had just turned 19 and was housed in another building at the Beirut International Airport compound, about 150 yards away from the Battalion Landing Team headquarters building that was destroyed.

"I thought we took a direct hit - we've been receiving small arms fire every day," said Westrick, who joined the Marines when he was living in Indianapolis. He now is from Myakka.

It was not until he came out of his building that he realized the enormity of the damage.

"Coming around the corner, that building stood tall," Westrick said, choking back tears. "and now it wasn't there."

The ceremony Sunday afternoon was emotional for Westrick, not only because he experienced the bombing but because two of his friends were killed while serving in Beirut prior to that attack.

The memorial service affected many of those in attendance, especially as the names of the victims were read.

While women from the Marine Moms of Manatee County, the Florida Navy Moms, and the Army Moms of Manatee read the names one by one, the cadence of a lone drummer filled the air.

"I couldn't believe how emotional we all got as we read the names," said Katie Powers, one of the Marine Moms who had helped organize the service.

"Especially to watch the people bring the roses up and put them in the basket (at the foot of a memorial wreath)," said Powers, whose two sons are Marines who served in Iraq. "It made me grateful that so many people came to honor those who died."

That was the point Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle made during his address.

"We must honor and respect those who died for their country," said Bustle, who is a retired Air Force colonel. "Their deaths are as important as those who died at Iwo Jima or Normandy."

The mayor said the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut was the beginning of the terrorist movement we see thriving in the world.

"It's important to reflect on that event," Bustle said, "and look at the parallels of the events of today."

Honor guards from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and other service organizations stood at attention during the entire rollcall of names.

With a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps, the 241 fallen heroes were given final honors.

To Esther Buckmaster, having a formal service locally was important.

Her son, Cpl. John Buckmaster, died in the barracks explosion on Oct. 23, 1983.

"I'm not able to go to the service at Camp Lejeune (N.C.)," she said, "and I thought everyone forgot, but this was magnificent."

Cpl. John Buckmaster was 21 when he served in Beirut and following in his father's footsteps when he joined the Marines.

Esther Buckmaster, whose husband, Arley, recently passed away, said when she first heard about the bombing on the news she was not concerned because her son was there for a peace mission.

"It was probably three days before we had an officer come to the door to tell us John was killed," she said.

Throughout the years, Esther Buckmaster still remembers the emotions of that time.

"I don't like to listen to television," she said. "I hear about the casualties in Iraq and it's like deja vu.

Mike Toma, of Lutz, stood with the rest of crowd as the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, and Sunny Matthews sang the National Anthem.

Toma was a 19-year-old lance corporal in the Marines asleep in the barracks on that fateful day in 1983.

His bunk was on the second floor in a small section of the building that did not collapse.

"We had been getting hit with artillery and I thought it just hit our side of the building," Toma said.

He was in a lot pain, falling in and out of consciousness and not really sure what happened.

"They pulled me out and I saw the sky," Toma said. "At that point I realized the building was gone."

Fifteen of 19 fellow Marines in his TOW unit were killed.

He tries to make the trip to Camp Lejeune for the annual memorial service, but can only do it occasionally.

When he heard about the one in Palmetto, he was glad to make the drive from Pasco County.

The remembrance service was one of only a handful of similar events happening throughout the country this weekend.

Powers, of the Marine Moms, said Bill Kibler, of Washington, D.C., encouraged her to organize a local memorial service.

Kibler, who served in Beirut as a Marine from October 1982 to February 1983, was organizing a three-day Beirut Remembrance Walk this weekend and Powers was planning on attending.

When Kibler said a local event would be more meaningful, Powers talked to the Marine Corps League, an organization of former Marine veterans.

To make sure the men who died in Beirut - not only those who perished in the barracks bombing, but all those who lost their lives during the peacekeeping mission - are remembered, two mothers of fallen Marines, Judith Young and Joan Muffler, have started a campaign to get the U.S. Postal Service to issue a 25th anniversary commemorative stamp.

For more information about that initiative, go to www.beirutstamp.com.