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thedrifter
06-11-03, 08:23 AM
By Roselee Papandrea
Jacksonville Daily News

He rarely talks about it. He tries not to think about it.

Sometimes, it just happens. It's hard to push away what happened in Beirut almost 20 years ago.

That's how retired Marine Master Sgt. John Selbe, 44, of Hubert, has dealt with being a survivor of the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 23, 1983.

That's how he coped.

"I've moved on with my life," he said. "You have to move on. You have to."

Selbe recently read an article in The Daily News about a federal judge finding the Iranian government responsible for the Beirut bombing. The news stirred those emotions that Selbe works so hard to stifle.

Despite his efforts to forget the day that still haunts his dreams, Selbe feels compelled to join the 153 plaintiffs -- 26 are survivors -- already listed on the lawsuit, which was heard in U.S. federal court in March. The second phase of the lawsuit to determine how much the plaintiffs will be compensated is expected to be resolved before the end of October.

"I'm not a whiner who wants a bunch of money," said Selbe, who still suffers from back problems as a result of his injuries. "I just want the truth to come out. There are people who are responsible for this, and they need to pay."

The first few days after hearing about the lawsuit were difficult for Selbe, especially since he didn't even know one was filed.

"It was a bombshell," he said. "It was something like lightning striking out of the clear blue sky. It brought it all back. Of course, I would think about it occasionally and every October at the memorial service. But it didn't really bring it home like this did because there was never anyone to blame.

"It brought back all these memories and all these people that I knew. It just brought it back."

Terance J. Valore, 41, of Pennsylvania, also didn't know about the lawsuit until Selbe called him recently. A 20-year-old lance corporal at the time of the bombing, Valore was burned on more than 95 percent of his body and is considered 100 percent disabled.

While he was "mad" that he wasn't on the lawsuit originally, just knowing he might be compensated for his injuries has lifted his spirits.

"It's been 20 years and I've been through hell," he said. "I feel like I just won the lottery for a change. I live paycheck to paycheck, and if it's terrorist money, I want it all. I want as much as I can get so my kids don't have to worry about it."

Valore has never really been able to put the bombing behind him.

"I think about it every day -- every minute of every day," Valore said. "My family and friends help me out a lot. I dwell on it maybe too much, but it helps me survive."

He relies on visits with friends like Selbe who make coping easier.

"We went on a hunting trip together, and it was the best feeling in the world to be with someone who knows what I went through instead of trying to make people believe what I mean," Valore said.

Selbe, who was a 25-year-old sergeant from Marmet, W.Va., with 2nd Combat Engineers, 2nd Marine Division, was supposed to take over guard duty at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut on the day of the bombing. He usually spent his days training the Lebanese Army, but on that day his guard shift was supposed to begin at 8 a.m.

He woke up at 6 a.m. to the sound of song birds perched in the trees around the barracks.

"I was sitting there smoking a cigarette, and I heard this bang," he said. "I leaned for my gear at the base of my cot and I heard a voice say, 'John, lay back down.' When I did, I fell through the floor."

He fell from his third-floor room to the second floor. The third floor, which turned to rubble, fell on top of him, burying him alive.

For four hours, he waited and listened to the cries of his fellow comrades -- Marines with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station sent to Beirut on a peacekeeping mission.

Paralyzed on his left side from the waist up, Selbe couldn't do a thing to help. He didn't even realize the arm wrapped around his head was his own.

Eventually, he was dug out. Glass was pulled from his ear. He still has concrete in his back and a scar in the shape of an "H" on his head. He was one of more than a 100 wounded survivors. A total of 241 service members, most from Jacksonville bases, died in the bombing.

Selbe was eventually taken to a hospital in Germany. He had no idea who survived the blast. He started asking questions at the hospital and that's when he found Valore in the burn unit.

"I didn't think he was going to make it," said Selbe, who fed his friend because he wasn't able to do it himself.

Valore was right above the guard shack when a truck laden with explosives parked in front of the First Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building.

"I was talking to a friend, and I turned away from the parade deck," Valore said. "Then I heard someone say, 'car bomb' and I covered my face. That's why I am here today. Every scar I have on my body came from Beirut, Lebanon."

Attorneys Steven R. Perles and Thomas Fortune Fay of Washington, D.C., are representing the families and injured survivors of the bombing. Perles said that several years ago, his office attempted to contact all the families and survivors of the attack. They knew they missed a lot of people.

"Because of privacy acts, we didn't have a list of survivors or even contact information for families of deceased," he said.

Since the article ran May 31 in The Daily News, seven people have contacted Perles about joining the lawsuit.

"While I'm reasonably confident that I will be able to work something out to fold them into the litigation, there are no guarantees in the law," he said. "All I'll guarantee is I will give it my best effort."

Perles said he doesn't want anybody who is eligible to receive money to be left out of the lawsuit.

"People who have not been contacted or who
failed to respond if they received a letter, shouldn't dwell on the past," he said. "If they want to participate, they should call my office. We'll do the best job we can under the current circumstances.

"It would be a personal tragedy for someone if they sat on their rights, knowing this lawsuit was going on and they didn't try to join. We don't want to see anyone left out."

While Selbe would have preferred to keep the details of what happened 20 years ago tucked in the past, he's relieved that there might finally be some closure to the tragedy.

"A week ago, I would have said that was part of my past, and I moved on," he said. "Now that I know there are guilty people out there, I'm glad to find out. I'm glad it came out and can put some finality on it."

Families of Beirut victims and survivors of the bombing who are interested in joining the litigation can contact Perles at (202) 745-1300.



Sempers,

Roger