View Full Version : Marines in Beirut, Part I: 32d MAU Goes Ashore

09-30-03, 06:32 AM
Marines in Beirut, Part I: 32d MAU Goes Ashore
Submitted by: 22nd MEU
Story Identification Number: 2003929145616
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Sept. 29, 2003) -- When the military arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began lobbing artillery shells against Jewish settlements in the northern Israeli province of Galilee from positions inside Lebanon, they brought to fruition long-simmering tensions in the region. The ensuing Israeli response was as swift and violent as it was predicable.

On June 6, 1982, seven Israeli Defense Force (IDF) divisions numbering 78,000 men and more than 1,200 tanks crossed the border into Lebanon across a 63-mile front. The intent of Operation PEACE FOR GALILEE was to create a 40-kilometer buffer zone inside Lebanon to thwart future attacks against the Galilee settlements and crush PLO and Syrian forces in the country.

Despite pockets of fierce resistance, the IDF sent the PLO fleeing toward the Lebanese capital of Beirut and severely mauled the 30 thousand-strong Syrian force both on the ground and in the air. After six days of intense combat, a ceasefire was signed between Syria and Israel, and later, the PLO. The Lebanese, who had stood aside as the IDF advanced, watched in horror as 14 thousand PLO fighters poured into Beirut, which prompted the IDF to encircle the city by both land and sea, laying siege to the city.

Meanwhile, the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. and commanded by Col. James M. Mead, was ordered to Lebanese coastal waters as the situation in Lebanon unfolded. The 32d MAU had left the United States on May 25, 1982 aboard the amphibious ships USS GUAM, NASHVILLE, HERITAGE, SAGINAW, and MANITOWOC, and consisted of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 2d Bn., 8th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MAU Service Support Group 32.

Over the course of the next four months, the 32d MAU remained on station off Lebanon prepared to conduct missions ashore. On June 24, MSSG-32 oversaw the evacuation of 580 noncombatants from the port of Juniyah while HMM-261 (Rein) was kept busy supporting the ongoing efforts of the U.S. State Department to forge a lasting peace. Dubbed the 'Cammie Cab Service,' HMM-261 flew more than 60 missions in support of these diplomatic efforts.

During this prolonged period afloat, the ships were able to break away piecemeal to make port visits in Italy. Doing so required the MAU to constantly shift personnel and equipment to ensure forces remained on hand to support any given mission, but gave the Marines and Sailors a much-needed break from the tedium of cutting 'gator squares.'

In early August, a military liaison team went ashore to support the Special Envoy to Lebanon, Ambassador Phillip C. Habib. Representing the MAU was Lt. Col. Robert B. Johnston, commanding officer of the unit's ground combat element, BLT 2/8.

The focus of the ongoing negotiations was to secure the evacuation of the PLO forces from Beirut as fighting continued to escalate in and around Beirut between the IDF, PLO, Lebanese Christians, and Shi'ite Moslems. Finally, after weeks of intense negotiations, an agreement was

On Aug. 25, a 2,000-man peacekeeping force (composed of 400 Italians, 800 French, and 800 American troops) was ordered to land in Beirut. The 32d MAU provided the American contingent of the force, and was tasked with securing Beirut's port through which the PLO would be evacuated by ship. Via landing craft, utility (LCU), E and F Companies were the first ashore and immediately secured the port. G Company followed, as did elements of the MAU Command Element and MSSG-32.

The next morning, the first ship arrived in port to begin evacuating PLO and Syrian forces. By the end of the day, 1,066 PLO fighters had been allowed to pass through the Marine lines and reach the ship. Elsewhere in Beirut, the Italian and French were also facilitating the departure of the PLO and Syrians.

Over the course of the next 15 days, the evacuation went smoothly as the PLO streamed through the port facilities. The culminating event was the departure of PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, on Aug. 30. Escorted by French forces, Arafat's arrival at the port caused a huge crowd of well-wishers and media to congregate.

As they approached the port gate, guarded by the grunts of E/2/8, some of Arafat's 25-man bodyguard detachment attempted to push their way past the Marines. The Marines coolly stood their ground and pushed back. The PLO thugs quickly backed down and within the hour, Arafat was aboard the merchant ship ATLANTIS and out of Beirut.

By Sept. 9, the evacuation was complete, calm had more or less descended onto Beirut, and the 32d MAU began reboarding its amphibious shipping. During their 15 days ashore in Beirut, the 32d MAU oversaw the evacuation of 6,436 armed PLO and Syrian fighters, and do so firing a shot.

Mere days after the Marines left, on Sept. 14, Lebanon's Christian president-elect, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated by PLO supporters. Compounded by the massacre of several hundred Palestinian refugees by Christian militia, Beirut again exploded into violence. Lebanon's new president immediately requested a Multi-National Force (MNF) to arrive in Beirut to help restore the peace.

In the midst of well-deserved liberty visits to Italy, the 32d MAU was again ordered to Beirut, and arrived there in late September. During the day of Sept. 29, more than 1,200 Marines came ashore at the port of Beirut and convoyed to their positions at Beirut International Airport. Italian troops occupied the areas to the south of Beirut that teemed with refugee camps and the French operated in Beirut itself. All told, the MNF numbered 3,000 troops.

Sept. 30 brought the first casualties of the American presence in Beirut. As they cleared BIA, an unexploded piece of ordnance unexpectedly detonated, killing Cpl. David Reagan and wounding three other Marines. Reagan would be the first of 266 Americans to die in Beirut.

The 32d MAU quickly went to work fortifying BIA, digging fighting positions, erecting guard posts, laying concertina wire, and clearing fields of fire. The headquarters for the MAU and its elements ashore were established in abandoned buildings throughout the BIA terminal area.

While the MAU Command Element, BLT 2/8, and MSSG-32 had a sizable force presence ashore, all of HMM-261 (Rein) remained aboard ARG shipping except for a single CH-46E which stood ready at BIA in case of medical emergencies.

Throughout October, the Marines conducted limited foot and vehicular patrols in the direct vicinity of BIA, and forged lasting relationships with the French and Italian contingents of the MNF through social functions and sporting events.

At this time, the local populace of Beirut displayed little overt opposition to the MNF presence and the 32d MAU Marines were frequently. The area around BIA was essentially a Muslim enclave and the Marines were well-received as they were seen as a deterrent to further Israeli, Syrian, PLO, and Christian imposition on their neighborhoods.

Despite a few desultory rounds landing on the Marine compound fired by the Lebanese, PLO, Israeli, and numerous militias operating in and around Beirut, the Americans were not an active target. Unfortunately, this would not last.

By late October, the 32d MAU had been deployed longer than anticipated, and the arrival of the advance party from the 24th MAU on Oct. 26 was well-received. Turn-over between the two MAUs continued for four days as the incoming MAU was briefed on the situation in Beirut and disposition of forces ashore. Early on the morning of Oct. 30, elements of the 24th MAU came ashore and conducted a relief-in-place with the 32d. Col. Thomas M. Stokes, Jr., Commanding Officer of the 24th MAU, relieved Col. Mead as the Commander, Task Force 62, and assumed responsibility for American participation in the MNF.

With their forces back aboard ship, the 22d MAU headed west toward an exercise in Morocco, then on to Rota, Spain and eventually the United States. Upon arrival at the port in Morehead City, N.C. the 32d MAU was met by a massive crowd of media representatives, well-wishers and official dignitaries, including the future Marine Corps Commandant, then-Maj. Gen. Alfred M. Gray, Jr., who was at that time the Commanding General of the 2d Marine Division.

Meanwhile, back in Beirut, the 24th MAU was settling in for a sustained deployment in Lebanon that would bring the unit, and later, the 22d MAU, its share of heartache, exasperation, and frustration.

This story is the first is a three-part series that details the role Marines played in Beirut from 1982 to 84. A fourth installment details the 22d MAU's participation in Operation URGENT FURY in Grenada. New chapters will be posted to www.usmc.mil and www.22meu.usmc.mil each Monday in October.


Marines from the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit man a checkpoint at the port in Beirut, Lebanon in late Aug. 1982 during the evacuation of PLO and Syrian fighters from the country. The 32d MAU, later named the 22d MAU, would serve four tours in Beirut in support of multi-national peace-keeping operations there.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines from BLT 2/8, the ground combat element of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit, stand in formation upon returning home from duty in Beirut, Lebanon as the initial U.S. contingent of a multi-national peacekpeeping force.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


09-30-03, 06:34 AM

A Navy LST crammed with evacuees leaves Lebanon's port of Juniyah on June 24, 1982 as fighting between Israeli and PLO/Syrian forces escalates in Beirut. The 32d Marine Amphibious Unit helped oversee the evacuation of 580 noncombatants from Juniyah, and within two months would begin an extended multi-national peace-keeping operation in Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


A banner bids farewell to the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit on Sept. 10, 1982 as the last Marines leave Beirut, Lebanon after overseeing the evacuation of more than six thousand PLO and Syrian fighters from the country. Within three weeks, the MAU would return to Lebanon as part of a multi-national peacekeeping force.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


This map shows the breakdown of Multi-National Forces in Beirut in September 1982. West Beirut was dominated by Israeli Defense Forces while East Beirut teemed by PLO, Syrian, and Muslim forces.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


09-30-03, 06:37 AM

Marines from the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit prepare 'Green Beach' outside Beirut, Lebanon for the introduction of additional forces on Oct. 1, 1982. The 32d MAU was in Beirut to participate in a multi-national peace-keeping operation.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines from the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit fortify their position at Beirut International Airport during the opening days of a nulti-national peacekeeping operation in Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Col. James Mead, Commanding Officer of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit, speaks to a Lebanese civlian during the delivery of food supplies from ships laying off shore. Mead commanded the 32d MAU during two tours in Beirut, and a third after the unit was redesignated the 22d MAU.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo



10-09-03, 06:01 AM
Taking a drink at the &quot;Can't Shoot Back Saloon&quot;; Marines in Beirut, Part II <br />
Submitted by: 22nd MEU <br />
Story Identification Number: 200310875218 <br />
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks <br />
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10-09-03, 06:05 AM
In light of the attack, a group of Marines on liberty in Greece and another training in France were immediately recalled to Lebanon. Security was strengthened at all posts, and on April 28, these new measures were tested when a car tried to slam through a LAF/MAU checkpoint. Two quick bursts of fire forced the vehicle off the road and the occupants were arrested.

On May 5, while flying over the city, Col. Mead's helicopter came under fire and hit by machine gun fire. Throughout that day and the next two, as fighting between Druze and Shi'ite militias spilled over into Beirut and errant rounds landed on Italian and French positions, the MAU's artillery, close air support, and mortar assets were kept at a constant state of alert. Over the course of the next several weeks, sporadic volleys of rockets and artillery rounds struck the MAU's positions at BIA but did no serious damage and caused no casualties.

Mid-May saw the arrival in theater of the 24th MAU, now commanded by Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, and the beginning of a relief-in-place between the two MAUs. On May 19, the Marines guarding the demolished U.S. Embassy returned to BIA, and on the May 24, advance elements of the 24th MAU began streaming ashore. By late afternoon on the 30th, the 24th MAU were entrenched in its positions ashore and Col. Geraghty assumed responsibility for the American contingent of the MNF.

The departure of the 22d MAU coincided with the signing of a withdrawal agreement between Israel and Lebanon that would in time see the evacuation of IDF forces from Lebanon and a strengthened LAF posture on the Lebanese-Israeli border. The agreement, brokered in part of the U.S., enflamed Muslim resentment of the U.S. and would serve as the catalyst for renewed attacks against the MNF.

For its second tour in Lebanon, the 24th MAU consisted of its Command Element, BLT 1/8, HMM-162 (Rein), and MSSG-24. The unit was equipped with the new CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter and the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), a piping and filtration system used to make fresh water. Both assets would be put to good use during the 24th MAU's time in Beirut.

June and most of July was relatively quiet as the 24th MAU dug in and continued to patrol the area around BIA alongside Lebanese forces. Liberty visits to Turkey and Athens continued, and small detachments were able to visit France to cross-train with the French armed forces. Training with the other MNF contingents continued as did specialized training within the MAU.

The quiet the 24th MAU had enjoyed since its arrival in Beirut was shattered on July 22 when more than a dozen 122mm rockets and 102mm mortar shells slammed onto the Marine positions at BIA. Eleven Lebanese were wounded, as were two Marines and a Sailor. These were the first combat casualties the 24th MAU had sustained in Beirut.

As fighting escalated between the LAF and Muslim factions in Beirut, anti-U.S. continued to rise as the Marines continued to train and patrol alongside the LAF. In late July, a group of gunmen fired through the airport fence at a group of Marines conducting physical training but caused no casualties.

On Aug. 8, two 122mm rockets struck the airport, and another was fired at the Marines on the 10th. One Marine was wounded in this second attack that was soon followed by larger, more sustained barrages. In all, more than 30 Soviet-built, Druze-fired Katyusha rockets struck in and around the MAU's positions and BIA's terminal and tarmac, prompting the closure of the airport to air traffic until Aug. 16.

At around 7:30 a.m., Weapons Co., BLT 1/8 fired four illumination rounds from its 81mm mortars directly over the site from where the rockets were fired. This marked the first time Marines fired indirect weapons toward enemy positions, and told the Druze militia that the Marines knew exactly where they were. No more rockets were fired that day.

On Aug. 16, Gen. Paul X. Kelley, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, visited the MAU along with the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Robert E. Cleary. The two Marines spent two days in Beirut touring the MAU's positions and speaking to the Marines.

In accordance with the peace agreement signed in Late May, IDF forces began withdrawing from Beirut on Aug. 28. As the IDF pulled out of Beirut, the LAF and militias jockeyed for position in the city, and fighting escalated sharply, often spilling over onto the MNF positions. Between Aug. 28 and 30, more than 100 mortar rounds and rockets struck the MAU positions, and errant small arms and machine gun fire were a constant hazard.

On the morning of Aug. 29, BLT 1/8 once again fired illumination rounds over Druze mortar and rocket positions. In response, a volley of 82mm mortar rounds struck Alpha Co.'s position, killing 2d Lt. Donald G. Losey and Staff Sgt. Alexander M. Ortega, and wounding three others. By the end of the day, eight more Marines would be wounded in the incessant barrages.

As rockets and mortar rounds continued to slam onto BIA, the Marines fired more illumination rounds over the Druze positions, as did the guided missile cruiser BELKNAP loitering off shore. When the Druze continued to fire at the Marines, the artillery battery from the 10th Marines assigned to BLT 1/6 was called into action.

few minutes after noon, a single volley of 155mm shells erupted from the battery's howitzers. The six high-explosive rounds found their target, killing three Druze militiamen, wounding at least 15 others, and silencing the enemy position.

While this was underway, a Druze armored personnel carrier engaged Marine and Lebanese forces at a checkpoint outside BIA. The infantrymen responded with small arms fire, and two Sea Cobra attack helicopters flying overhead finished off the vehicle with machine gun fire and 5-inch rockets.

Throughout the rest of the August, the Marines were under near constant attack. On the 30th, the Marines reinforced the U.S. Ambassador's residence and the next day, Col. Geraghty was ordered to give 500,000 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition to the LAF which further angered Beirut's Muslim factions.

The MAU's 155mm howitzers went into action again on Aug. 31, firing against Druze positions near the airport. With the heightened tensions, all patrols into Beirut were suspended as the Marines hunkered down at BIA. When the last of the IDF left Beirut on Sept. 4, the void they left drastically worsened the Marine situation.

The LAF and Christian militias were now in full-scale battle against the Druze and Shi'ite militias, and the MNF found itself caught in the middle. The Marines came under direct attack and responded in kind with their rifles, machine guns, and main guns on their M-60 main battle tanks. Although an enemy 106mm recoilless rifle shell caved in a Marine bunker and mortars saturated BIA, there were no casualties.


Signs outside a tent from BLT 1/8, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, in Beirut. The signs, written in July, August, and September 1983, show the loosening of the rules of engagement for the Marines involved in peace-keeping operations in Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Trailed by curious Lebanese civilians, Marines from Kilo Co., BLT 3/8, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, patrol a war-shattered Beirut suburb in Dec. 1982.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


A Marine from the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit instructs members of the Lebanese Armed Forces on rudimentary hand-to-hand combat skills in Beirut in Dec. 1982.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-09-03, 06:08 AM
Throughout the night of the 4th, the Marines endured sporadic shelling which resulted in the wounding of five Marines. More than 30 rockets hit the Marine position on the night of Sept. 5, killing two Marines, Lance Cpl. Randy Clark and Cpl. Pedro Valle, and wounding two others. By late afternoon on Sept. 6, the Marines had endured an additional 130 mortar rounds and rockets, and suffered two more casualties.

Ongoing peace efforts were a dismal failure, and the other MNF contingents were suffering casualties as well. A French soldier was killed and three others wounded during shelling of their compound and the Italians were subjected to constant barrages as well, though the focus of the Druze and Shi'ite violence seemed to be directed toward the 24th MAU.

At 6 p.m. on Sept. 7, a Marine from MSSG-24 was wounded in yet another mortar barrage, and a rocket attack the next morning marred the visit of the commanding generals from Fleet Marine Forces Atlantic and the 2d Marine Division. The U.S. response was a short volley of from BLT 1/8's 155mm howitzers and a salvo from the USS BOWEN's 5-inch guns.

Daily barrages peppered BIA, and at 1 a.m. on Sept. 11, Marines beat back an attack against one of its checkpoints by Iranian extremists.

The 31st MAU (Command Element, BLT 3/3, HMM-165, MSSG-31) arrived off the Lebanese cost on Sept. 12 as a reserve for the 24th MAU, and remained on station for a month without sending any sizable portion of its force ashore. Also on the 12th, the EISENHOWER carrier battle group arrived in the area to lend a hand if needed.

On Sept. 16, the frigate BOWEN and destroyer JOHN RODGERS fired 72 rounds against a Druze battery that was attacking American consular facilities, and on the 19th more than 360 5-inch shells were fired in support of LAF troops defending the Suk Al Gharb ridge just south of the city. This support of the LAF, ordered by the Special Presidential Envoy to Lebanon, Robert C. McFarlane (a retired Marine lieutenant colonel), cemented in the minds of Beirut's Muslim factions that the MNF was supporting the Lebanese governement, and attacks against U.S., French, and British forces rose sharply.

The 21st saw more shelling of militia targets ashore, and on the 23d, the 24th MAU's 81mm mortars and 155mm howitzers again went into action as the Marine positions at BIA came under attack. After the battleship NEW JERSEY fired upon Druze militia on Sept. 25, the entire MNF was subjected to heavy mortar and rocket attack by the PLO and Druze and Shi'ite militias.

After weeks of near constant combat, a tenuous ceasefire was put into effect on Sept. 26. BIA was closed to all incoming and outgoing air traffic, and the MAU used this opportunity to rotate its Marines onto the amphibious ships off shore. This period was used by the warring factions in Beirut to rearm and rearrange. American equipment, including artillery pieces and tanks, was delivered to the LAF while PLO forces infiltrated the numerous refugee camps dotting Beirut. Additionally, the Iranian-sanction, anti-U.S. Islamic Amal began building bunkers and outposts surrounding BIA, all in view of the Marines on post.

Although fighting had diminished with the ceasefire, it had not stopped altogether. Helicopters flying to BIA from the amphibious ships off shore and back again were the frequent targets of militia gunmen. Although no aircraft were downed and no crewmen killed or wounded, it wasn't uncommon for the aircraft to land with their skins punctured by small-caliber rounds.

On Oct. 8, the ceasefire disintegrated completely when LAF forces engaged Druze militia throughout the city. The MAU's positions at BIA came under attack and a Marine was wounded by mortar shell fragments. Another BLT 1/8 Marine was hit in the shoulder by sniper fire, marking a new chapter in the ongoing campaign against the MNF. Snipers in the urban sprawl surrounding BIA now regularly engaged the Marines, adding long-range direct fire to the seemingly constant rocket and mortar barrages.

The MAU responded in kind, deploying counter sniper teams to combat this new threat. The Marine snipers became particularly adept at locating and eliminating the militia sniper threat, but could not eradicate the threat completely. Sgt. Allen H. Soifert was killed by enemy sniper fire on Oct. 14 and another Marine was wounded. Two days later, militia snipers claimed the life of Capt. Michael J. Ohler and wounded three other Marines.

Firefights were breaking out on a daily basis and the Marines found themselves essentially sequestered in the BIA perimeter as Syrian and PLO forces, Druze and Shi'ite militia, and even Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen prowled the city around them.

On Oct. 19, four Marines were wounded when a remotely-detonated car bomb exploded as their convoy drove through the city. Italian soldiers on patrol provided the Marines with medical aid and secured the scene until other Marine forces could arrive. Following the bombing, a disquieting peace fell over Beirut for several days.

Although fighting could be heard far in the distance between the LAF and militia forces, the MAU's positions were left alone except for a few sporadic gun battles on the eastern perimeter of BIA.

The Marines and Sailors of the 24th MAU ended Saturday, Oct. 22 on a high note. A USO-sponsored concert had done much to alleviate the violent tension of the past few weeks and the entire 24th MAU knew that the 22d MAU had left Camp Lejeune on the 18th and was at that moment steaming toward Beirut to relieve them.

Few could imagine the tragedy mere hours away.

NOTE: This story is the second is a three-part series that details the role Marines played in Beirut from 1982 to 84. A fourth installment details the 22d MAU's participation in Operation URGENT FURY in Grenada. New chapters will be posted to www.usmc.mil and www.22meu.usmc.mil each week in October.


Assault Amphibian Vehicles from BLT 2/6, the ground combat element of the 22d MAU, plow through deep snow during an attempt to rescue Lebanese civilians trapped by snowstorms in the Beka'a Valley.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines from from HMM-264 (Rein) fan out to help Lebanese civilians caught in a sudden snowstorm. The 22d MAU helped 200 Lebanese civilians during the crisis.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


A Marine patrol from BLT 2/6, the ground combat element of the 22d Marine Amphibious Unit, takes cover after receiving fire in the Ouzai district of Beirut in March 1983. Behind the Marines, in beret and sunglasses, is a French soldier.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-09-03, 06:11 AM

The U.S. Embassy to Lebanon prior to the April 18, 1983 terrorist attack that killed 63 people, including 17 Marines, one of whom was Cpl. Robert McMaugh, a member of the Marine Security Guard detachment.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


A Marine sniper from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, engages in a long range duel with Druze and Shi'ite militia snipers in Beirut in Oct. 1983 during the peace-keeping mission in Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


View of the 155mm howitzers of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, dug in at Beirut International Airport during the MAU's peace-keeping mission in Lebanon in 1982.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo



10-21-03, 07:46 AM
Marines in Beirut III: Disaster, Withdrawal, and Legacy
Submitted by: 22nd MEU
Story Identification Number: 200310206351
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Oct. 18, 2003) -- On duty as Sergeant of the Guard, Sgt. Stephen E. Russell provided the only warning to the Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) as a explosive-laden truck sped toward the four-story building housing the MAU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines.

Screaming "Hit the deck!," Russell ran across the lobby of the building urging his Marines to take cover as the truck bore down on him. Seconds later, the truck exploded, tossing Russell into the air, out of the building, and onto the street outside severely injured.

Other Marine sentries posted around the building had seen the yellow Mercedes-Benz five-ton state bed truck dodge concrete barriers and run over concertina wire emplacements but didn't have time to respond. Standing rules of engagement prohibited the Marines from carrying loaded weapons, and the seconds it took to load and chamber their rifles cost them the opportunity to engage the smiling suicide bomber behind the wheel of the truck.

Inside the truck, canisters filled with explosive gas had been wrapped with explosives and detonated with force equivalent to more than 12,000 pounds of TNT. The concrete building collapsed on itself and created a crater nearly nine feet deep. Inside and near the mounds of rubble were 241 dead Americans; 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers. More than 100 others were wounded.

It was 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1983

The surviving Marines and Sailors of the MAU raced from their billeting scattered around Beirut International Airport (BIA) and were greeted by a thick black cloud rising from where the BLT 1/8 headquarters had stood. Doing their best to shake off their shock, the survivors immediately began digging through the rubble with their bare hands looking for their slain and wounded comrades.

Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, 24th MAU Commanding Officer, immediately ordered messages be sent to Sixth Fleet Headquarters and the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in Washington, D.C. informing them of the disaster. Geraghty's second-in-command, Lt. Col. Harold W. Slacum radioed the other MNF contingents asking that they dispatch medical and recovery teams. He also contacted the Navy ships off shore asking them to provide medical assistance and that the battleship NEW JERSEY send her Marine guard detachment to beef up security at the site.

Lebanese, Italian, and British soldiers immediately arrived on the scene and pitched in to the recovery and rescue operations. The French also dispatched soldiers to the scene even though they too were the victims of a truck bombing. At almost the same time the MAU was hit, a small truck bomb slammed into a French paratroop barracks, killing 58 soldiers.

A brief message sent to the NMCC at 7 a.m. summed up the situation:

"Explosion at BLT 1/8 HQ ... a large explosion at BLT 1/8 HQ Bldg collapsed the roof and leveled the building. Large number of dead and injured. Are using MSSG 24 and Italian MNF medical and will med-evac out of LS Brown ... French report Bldg in their sector also bombed ... unknown injured; BLT HQ destroyed. Amplifying info to follow."

Amid the recovery efforts, the MAU's Chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. George Pucciarelli and the Sixth Fleet's Chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Arnold E. Resnicoff, circulated among the site, ministering to the dead and wounded.

A Lebanese construction firm appeared just before 8 a.m. with cranes and heavy earth movers, augmenting the hard-pressed equipment from MEU Service Support Group 24.

Further complicating the recovery efforts was intermittent sniper fire pinging around the international rescue efforts, and the appearance of looters. The Marines responded in kind to the sniper fire and chased away the looters.

At 10:30 a.m., an Air Force C-9 'Florence Nightingale' was the first of a flotilla of aircraft to arrive at BIA. The aircraft lifted off soon thereafter with a number of walking wounded and several litter patients. Over the course of the next few hours, more casualties were flown aboard U.S. and British aircraft to hospitals in Naples, Cyprus, and Germany.

The total number of injured rose to 112, and by 1 p.m., the last survivor was pulled from the rubble. At that point, the rescue efforts turned to recovery.

The next day, France's President Francois Mitterand visited the sites of the French and American bombings. He was the first of many delegates to inspect the damage that included the Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley and Vice President George H. Bush.

On Oct. 25, Gen. Kelley, en route to Lebanon with a party of high-ranking political and military officials, visited the Air Force Regional Medical Center in Wiesbaden, Germany where one of the most poignant moments of the tragedy occurred.

There, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Nashton lay in intensive care with severe injuries sustained in the bombing. Unable to speak or see, Nashton grabbed Kelly's camouflage jacket, reached up to his collar and counted the four stars. Given a pad of paper, Nashton wrote two simple words; 'Semper Fi.'

Upon Kelley's arrival in Beirut, Geraghty gave him and Vice President Bush a tour of the bomb site and briefed them on the recovery efforts and ongoing security efforts. Throughout their visit, and during stops to visit the wounded on the way back to the United States, the pair presented many of the wounded Marines and Sailors with Purple Hearts.

Meanwhile, as recovery efforts continued in Lebanon, thousands of miles away, the 22d MAU was diverted to the Caribbean island of Grenada where they invaded the island nation alongside Army forces. As a stop gap to the 22d MAU's arrival in Lebanon, the 2d Marine Division?s air alert force was activated, and the headquarters of the 2d Bn., 6th Marines was sent to Lebanon and redesignated as the 1st Bn., 8th Marines. Several days later, a rifle company from the battalion arrived to bolster the depleted strength of BLT 1/8.

A committee was later appointed by the Secretary of Defense to investigate the circumstances surrounding the attack. The committee was headed up by retired Navy Admiral Robert L.J. Long, and included retired generals from the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. After an extensive investigation, the Long Commission levied blame for the tragedy against a number of individuals and commands.

Col. Geraghty was faulted for supposedly ignoring warnings against such terrorist attacks, and the BLT 1/8 commander, Lt. Col. Howard Gerlach, who was severely wounded in the attack, was criticized for allowing so much of his unit to billet in a single location. The Commodore of Amphibious Squadron 8, Navy Capt. Morgan France, and the Sixth Fleet staff were criticized for not reviewing the MAU's security posture as events in Lebanon unfolded. The Long Commission condemned Iran and Syria for carrying out, or at least supporting, the attack.

The MAU's security posture at BIA was immediately strengthened in the days following the attack as concrete and earthen barricades were erected and guard posts more heavily fortified. Administrative and other non-essential elements were sent to work from ships off shore and Col. Geraghty consolidated his Marines' positions.

Three Marines were wounded in mortar attacks on Oct. 26 and over the course of the next several weeks, the Marines were subjected to almost daily mortar, rocket, and direct fire attacks. On Nov. 17, the advance elements of the 22d MAU began arriving in Beiruta.

The relief-in-place between the 22d and 24th MAUs went off without a hitch, and by midnight on 19 Nov., the 24th MAU had completely retrograded from Lebanon. Brig. Gen. Jim R. Joy, the recently designated 22d MAU commander, officially relieved Col. Geraghty as the commander of the U.S.'s MNF contingent the next morning and the ships bearing the 24th MAU sailed away from Lebanon.

After a wash down in Rota, Spain, the 24th MAU crossed the Atlantic and arrived in North Carolina during the last days of November to an boisterous welcome from families, friends, and well-wishers.

Back in Lebanon, the 22d MAU (consisting of its Command Element, BLT 2/8, HMM-261, and MSSG-22) settled into its fourth tour in Beirut. Col. James P. Faulkner originally commanded the MAU, but on Nov. 3, the 2d Marine Division's assistant commander, Brig. Gen. Joy, had been given command of the MAU and Faulkner became Joy's chief of staff.

A platoon of Marines from F/2/8 were flown to the Embassy where they bolstered security and at BIA, the priority of the MAU went to improving security there. A Navy Construction Bn. ('Seabee')Team arrived in Beirut and helped oversee the construction of nearly 200 underground bunkers and strengthening of existing positions. The MAU's rules of engagement were expanded to cover any possible situation, and the Marines given greater latitude in defending themselves.

On Dec. 4, Navy bombers attacked Syrian positions near Beirut and two were shot down by surface to air missiles. Within hours of the bombing attack, the 22d MAU positions came under heavy rocket and small arms attack and eight Marines from G/2/8 were killed when an 122mm rocket scored a direct attack against their outpost. Two others were wounded in the blast.


A thick, black cloud rises from the shattered headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 22d Marine Amphibious Unit, where, only seconds before, a suicide bomber drove a explosive-laden truck into the building, killing 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-21-03, 07:49 AM
The Marines responded with small arms, mortar and artillery fire, and 5-inch Naval gunfire support from ships off shore. Dec. 6 saw G/2/8 become embroiled in another attack, and in response, the Marines used tanks and Dragon anti-tank missiles to destroy two stubborn Amal militia bunkers. When enemy fire continued to hit G/2/8 on Dec. 8, the Marines? patience ran out and they methodically destroyed every enemy bunker facing them.

Over the course of the next month, the Marines continued to receive steady incoming fire, and on Dec. 9, a Sailor and Marine were wounded. The Marines reacted to any incoming fire with a heavier, and usually more accurate, response.

Christmas and New Years came and went with the MAU dug in and receiving and returning sporadic small arms and indirect fire. On Jan. 7, Druze rockets slammed into the MAU positions and wounded two Marines. The next day, Cpl. Edward D. Gargano from BLT 2/8 was killed by a sniper while unloading supplies from helicopter at the U.S. Embassy.

Jan. 30 saw the Marines suffer the final fatalities of its involvement in Beirut. During a protracted firefight, Lance Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez was killed and another Marine from G/2/8 were wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade. The Marines hit back with mortars, tank fire, grenades, and machinegun and rifle fire.

Later that day, an E/2/8 Marine was wounded in a mortar barrage, and Lance Cpl. George Dramis of G/2/8 was killed by a sniper. The 20-year-old Dramis was the last Marine to die in Beirut.

On Feb. 5, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) virtually disintegrated when some of its forces, nearly three-fourths in some units, deserted. The Druze and Amal militias tightened their hold around BIA, occupying many positions abandoned by the LAF.

The next day, when the MAU came under heavy attack on its eastern perimeter, they responded with Naval gunfire and the first Marine-controlled tactical air mission since the mission to Beirut began.

With the collapse of the LAF, the United States ordered the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon and the MAU to execute the mission. Via helicopter and landing craft, 787 persons were evacuated from Beirut between Feb. 7 and 11.

A few days later, when heavy shelling slammed into east Beirut and threatened the Lebanese Presidential Palace and other diplomatic entities, the Lebanese requested U.S. Navy support. The battleship NEW JERSEY took the Druze positions under fire with her 16-inch guns, immediately silencing the militia fire.

A few weeks earlier, Brig. Gen. Joy had learned that President Ronald Reagan told Great Britain, French, and Italy that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Beirut was imminent. On Feb. 16, Joy transferred command of the 22d MAU back to Col. Faulkner and assumed command of the newly-established Joint Task Force Lebanon. The MAU finally received the withdrawal order on Feb. 18.

That same day, the MAU began sending its forces back aboard the amphibious ships of Amphibious Squadron 4 in earnest, a process that had actually begun on Feb. 9. By Feb. 26, most of the MAU had slowly constricted its perimeter and at 4 a.m., E/2/8 was flown to the ships off shore and a few hours later, F/2/8 was withdrawn as well. G/2/8 were the last elements of the MAU to leave Beirut via AAVs and landing craft at around 12:30 p.m.

A weakened LAF assumed control of BIA from the 22d MAU, who left behind over a million filled sandbags but very little of anything else. They even took with them or destroyed the tons of concrete and steel road obstacles emplaced over the past several months. At sea and safely aboard ship, the 22d MAU sortied to several liberty ports, yet retained a rotating presence off the Lebanese coast.

Over the next several weeks, JTF Lebanon kept a modest U.S. presence ashore, including around a hundred Marines guarding the U.S. Embassy, an ANGLICO team, and approx. 250 Special Forces troops operating with the LAF in a trainer capacity.

The 22d MAU maintained a presence off the coast until it was relieved on April 10 by the newly-reconstituted 24th MAU. The 22d MAU returned to the U.S. on May 1, 1984, while ashore in Lebanon, the 24th MAU assumed security duties at the U.S. and British Embassies. JTF Lebanon was deactivated on April 26, and Brig. Gen. Joy returned to Camp Lejeune to reassume his duties as the Assistant Commander, 2d Marine Division.

Eventually, the 24th MAU's Marines guarding the Embassies ashore were withdrawn on July 31, 1984, closing the curtain on an 23-month-long presence ashore. The only Marines then left ashore in Beirut were the Marine Security Guards on duty at the U.S. Embassy.

In retrospect, the Marines of the 22d and 24th MAUs were hampered by political aspirations gone awry. Despite the valor of the Marines who earned the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal for their service in Beirut, their presence did very little to change the situation in war-torn Lebanon. Case in point; mere weeks after the 24th MAU pulled its forces out of Beirut and steamed away from Lebanon, another truck bomb targeted the U.S. Embassy, killing 23 people, four of whom were Marine Security Guards.

Of the 266 Americans who died in Beirut between August 1982 and February 1984, 238 Marines were Marines. Another 151 Marines were wounded in combat, while 47 others suffered non-combat injuries.

In time, the word 'Lebanon' was inscribed onto the base of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia and a similarly-inscribed plate placed on the staff of the Marine Corps colors. On Oct. 23, 1986, three years after the bombing of the BLT 1/8 headquarters, the Beirut Memorial was dedicated in Jacksonville, N.C. at the entrance to Camp Johnson, near Camp Lejeune.

For their service in Beirut, the MAUs that served in Lebanon were bestowed several unit awards. The 31st MAU was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for its service as a floating reserve in mid-1983 while the Secretary of the Navy bestowed the Navy Unit Commendation upon the 22d MAU three times, and the 24th MAU twice.

NOTE: This story is the third is a three-part series that details the role Marines played in Beirut from 1982 to 84. A fourth installment details the 22d MAU's participation in Operation URGENT FURY in Grenada. New chapters will be posted to www.usmc.mil and www.22meu.usmc.mil each week in October.


Aerial view of the headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, in Beirut, Lebanon where 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers were killed when an explosive-laden truck slammed into the building on Oct. 23, 1983, completely destroying the structure.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Front view of the headquarters for Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 22d Marine Amphibioius Unit, prior to the explosion that destroyed the building on Oct. 23, 1983. An explosive-laden truck slammed into the building where the jeep is parked, killing 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


A Marine from the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit wipes away a tear as he dodges sniper fire being directed against rescuers at the site of the Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines headquarters that was destroyed by a suicide bomber on Oct. 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-21-03, 07:52 AM

Lt. Cmdr. George W. Pucciarelli, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit Chaplain, shows the strain of ministering the dead and wounded at the site of a suicide bombing that killed 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and three soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


24th Marine Amphibious Unit Commanding Officer Timothy J. Geraghty, far right, discusses ongoing recovery efforts at the destroyed BLT 1/8 headquarters in Beirut Lebanon with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley and Vice President George H. Bush on Oct. 25, 1983.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines pay tribute to those killed in Lebanon and Grenada during a memorial service held aboard Camp Lejeune in late October 1983.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-21-03, 07:54 AM

Two Marines from the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) help a young evacuee into a flight helmet on Feb. 9, 1984 during a non-combatant evacuation operation from Beirut, Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, man a security check point near Beirut International Airport during the final days of the U.S. peace-keeping efforts in Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


Marines from the 22d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) lower the national colors for the last time on Feb. 26, 1984 at the end of the U.S.'s extended peace-keeping mission in Beirut, Lebanon.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


10-21-03, 07:56 AM

Jubilant Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, board a landing craft on Feb. 26, 1984 as some of the last Marines to leave Beirut, Lebanon after the U.S.'s extended peace-keeping mission there.
Photo by: Official USMC Photo


The Beirut Memorial outside Camp Lejeune, N.C., home of the 22nd and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units, commemorates the service of the American servicemen who served in Beirut peace-keeping operations from Aug. 1982 to Feb. 1984.
Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks




03-13-07, 06:40 AM
there '82 22nd mau hmm-261 beirut
there '83 24th mau hmm-162 beirut jumped back and forth between living on the airport and hanging on the uss iwo jima. after blt bombing, stood security checkpoint for hangar staging marines for flights back to the states for burial.