Retired, active duty military remember Beirut bombing anniversary

By jdn_spotlight, jdn_military
Published: Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 19:41 PM.

Oct. 23, 1983, was the worst day of Robert T. Jordan’s life.
Though the retired Marine major served for nearly 30 years in the Marine Corps, including 13 months in Vietnam, it was his 100 days in Lebanon that he describes as the most intense and life altering — especially the late October morning when a suicide bomber took the lives of more than 240 Marines and sailors in sleeping in their Beirut barracks. To this day, he said, he still can’t look at red clay, which made up much of the terrain in the area where Marines were during their peacekeeping mission in Beirut, without getting emotional.
“You learn to deal with it over time, but no, it doesn’t get any easier,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t get any easier for these guys until they come here and they go to the wall and they see the names and touch the names. It’s a healing kind of thing.”
He, as well as fellow survivors and their families, came to Camp Geiger aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River on Wednesday to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Beirut bombing. It was the third ceremony of the day, following an early morning vigil restricted to families and veterans and a mid-morning event open to the public, both at the Beirut Memorial housed in Lejeune Memorial Gardens, to commemorate the events of Oct. 23, 1983. On that morning, two trucks full of explosives drove into the barracks housing American and French troops; 241 American troops, as well as 58 French soldiers, lost their lives. It was the deadliest day in the history of the Marine Corps since the battle of Iwo Jima 38 years prior.
Jordan was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s ceremony aboard Camp Geiger, where the first memorial to those lost in Beirut was erected. Jordan shared his memories of that 1983 morning — the explosions blowing his room’s windows and doors in, trying to find Marines in the rubble of what was once a four-story building. He likened it to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens: a surreal, other worldly experience.
“It was like I was in a fantasy world,” Jordan said of the scene.
One of the men in that building was Danny Wheeler, a retired Navy Chaplain. He was on the fourth floor of the barracks when trucks drove into the building, but said he doesn’t remember the explosion as he was asleep at the time. When he did wake up, Wheeler recalls opening his eyes to a different realm of existence.
“I woke up into hell, into darkness,” Wheeler said. “The taste of dust on my lips, not knowing what had happened.”
After about five hours, Wheeler was rescued and helped his fellow servicemen through the grieving process he too was experiencing. Wheeler said the experience brought him closer to God but left his soul permanently scarred. This is his third year at the Beirut wreath laying ceremony and, according to him, the reunion and remembrance is a way to make things right emotionally.
“I remind myself that we’re not in this by ourselves, we have each other,” Wheeler said. “All of us suffered such a terrible loss that will hurt for years to come, but we have each other to lean on; and I think God gave us one another for that very reason.”
Along with veterans and their families, active duty Marines and sailors were on hand to witness the ceremony. One of those was Corey Russen, a corpsman and Pittsburgh native. Russen was in attendance primarily to assist anyone in need medically, but said he also used the ceremony to learn more about an incident that permanently marked the history of the Navy.
“It’s important to know who came before you,” Russen said. “It’s important to ask questions and learn from them.”

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