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10-24-08, 05:15 AM
A retirement to remember
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Beirut survivor ends career in Marines at 25th remembrance
October 23, 2008 - 6:52PM

Twenty-five years ago, Emanuel Simmons and his friends talked about how one day, they would be sergeants major in the Marine Corps. They would have cookouts on the weekend and always stay in touch.

Then came Oct. 23, 1983. Simmons was asleep on the second floor of the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment headquarters when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into the building and detonated the bomb, destroying the building and killing 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers.

Simmons woke up buried in rubble.

One of Simmons' arms was pinned, and since he could only move one arm, he thought the other one was gone. He groped around, searching for his other arm, and when he grabbed his hand, he remembers a feeling of relief, thinking the doctors could sew it back on.

In the hospital, Simmons was temporarily paralyzed, and suffered from severe burns, a collapsed lung and other injuries. But when he healed, he decided he wanted to stay in the Marine Corps.

Thursday, after a ceremony to honor the veterans and victims of the Marine mission in Beirut, Simmons had a ceremony of his own. He retired from the Corps as a master sergeant, standing in front of the Beirut Memorial.

Simmons said he stayed in for 26 years for the men whose names are etched on that wall - the men whose dreams were cut short.

"I'll never forget the promise we made to each other," Simmons said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I stayed in the Corps for them. I kept them on my mind every single day."

After he returned from Beirut, Simmons said it was difficult to build close bonds with other Marines. He didn't want to risk losing his friends again, he said.

"I struggled with it for years," he said.

When he had questions he couldn't answer, Simmons said he would drive to the Beirut Memorial with a six-pack of beer and have a drink with his friends.

"I drank a little more than they did, but we shared," he said.

Throughout his Marine Corps career, Simmons said he felt it was his duty to teach young Marines about what happened in Beirut, and how to deal with it. He credited his family with supporting him through it all.

"If it wasn't for my family, if it wasn't for my mother ... I couldn't be here today," he said. "I love the Marine Corps ... and I will love it forever."

Contact interactive content editor and military reporter Jennifer Hlad at jhlad@freedomenc.com or 910-219-8467.