Beirut claimed lives outside of blast
Comments 0 | Recommend 1
Many remember events that occurred before, after Oct. 23
October 22, 2008 - 6:36PM

Army Maj. Randall A. Carlson was killed in Beirut on Sept. 25, 1982.

Marine Cpl. Edward J. Gargano was killed Jan. 8, 1984.

Their names join 271 others on the wall of the Beirut Memorial, serving as a reminder that the terrorist bombing on Oct. 23, 1983 was not the first or the last time the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon claimed American lives.

A multinational peacekeeping force arrived in Beirut in August 1982. "Beirut Bob" Colyer arrived with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in October of that year.

Colyer's unit was assigned to secure the perimeter around the Beirut International Airport, he said. They encountered a lot of resistance - in the form of small-arms fire and mortar attacks.

During the course of the deployment, it got progressively worse. The light from the firefights would turn the nights into day, Colyer said.

In early 1983, John Soper's job was to go back and forth between the American embassy and various outposts. The morning of April 18, Soper was originally supposed to be at the embassy, but instead was on a ship headed for a liberty period. That day, a suicide bomber targeted the embassy, killing 63 people.

Among those who died that day: Marine staff sergeants Ben Maxwell and Mark Salazar, and Cpl. Robert McMaugh.

Danny Joy was with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in 1983. A week before the terrorist bombing of the 1/8 headquarters, he and some other Marines were at the university in Lebanon.

Joy, Capt. Michael Ohler and a few other Marines were up on the roof, while Ohler, the forward air controller, was calling in air support. Ohler had been looking through a type of binoculars, but had taken his eyes away for a moment to orient himself, Joy remembers. When he looked around the side of the bunker, a round hit him the forehead, killing him instantly.

Just a few hours later, Joy was in a bunker when he saw a rocket-propelled grenade coming across the field. Another Marine had put his hands up to shield his face, but the shrapnel blew through his hands and onto his face. Another young Marine was knocked unconscious, while Joy was blown out of the bunker.

With no electricity, the corpsmen worked by candlelight to save the injured Marines.

"I will never forget watching these guys work on those guys by candlelight," Joy said.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Ernie Milam was with the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit in 1983 when the 1/8 headquarters was bombed. The unit was headed to Beirut when it was diverted to Grenada for a short operation there. Milam said he didn't know the about the bombing until the unit got back on the ships after the Grenada mission was complete.

Milam arrived in Beirut in mid-November, 1983. When he arrived, Milam, who was the maintenance chief, walked past the wreckage of the BLT 1/8 building on his way to the maintenance building.

"We saw it every day, lived with what happened, the memory of it," Milam said. "That was very stressful ... (but) it was not openly discussed within my platoon."

On Jan. 7, 1984, Milam and two other Marines took a helicopter to a landing zone near the embassy, where they needed to determine if one of the light-armored vehicles needed a new engine.

When they landed at the beachfront parking lot, Milam saw a five-ton truck with a driver and a jeep with a driver, and was told the Marines needed to wait until the helicopter returned from another trip before they left for the embassy.

"It was the prettiest Sunday morning that you could ever want," Milam said, becoming emotional as he thought about what happened next.

Milam and a staff sergeant were standing on one side of a small building - like a toll booth at the front of the parking lot - while a young Marine stood on the other side. Milam glanced around at the building with blown out windows across the street, the steep road bank and the cinderblock wall at the edge of the road.

"It dawned on me, it hit me like a ton of bricks: My God, what a beautiful place for an ambush," Milam said.

He took two steps back before the group was attacked with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. He returned fire with his .45-caliber pistol, then asked the staff sergeant to fire his light anti-tank weapon.

The incoming fire stopped briefly, and Milam yelled "do we have anyone down?"

He can still hear the reply: "Over here!"

Milam knew Gargano had serious internal injuries. He dragged him to the jeep and kept him upright while the jeep driver called for help.

Gargano was eventually taken to the embassy in a blacked out Chevrolet suburban, but he later died of his injuries.

"People used to think as a Marine you don't cry. As a man you don't cry," Milam said.

Though he lives in Jacksonville, it was 10 years before Milam could go to the Beirut Memorial, he said. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and urges any other service members experiencing problems to seek help.

"It bothers me as much today as it did 25 years ago," he said.

Still, Milam plans to participate in a candlelight vigil this morning. And he made contact with Gargano's mother to answer any questions she may have.

Soper said there are many things going on in Beirut the press at the time did not report, and he, like other veterans and families, is still angry about the situation the Marines were in there.

"A lot of us are very angry, very bitter, even today," he said. But he welcomed the chance to talk to fellow veterans and participate in the 25th anniversary remembrance events.

"This is a healing process for us, too," Soper said.

Contact interactive content editor and military reporter Jennifer Hlad at or 910-219-8467