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The Impact of the Beirut Bombing

 

Editor’s note: In 1982 Marines were sent to Lebanon as peacekeepers during the Lebanese Civil War. On Oct. 23, 1983, a truck filled with explosives crashed into a Marine barracks building in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. A similar truck struck a French military barracks building, killing 58 French service members. The Beirut bombing resulted in the withdrawal of international forces from Lebanon.

Tim McCoskey, a Beirut bombing survivor, shares his story from that day.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The barracks building was gone. The four-story building where hundreds of Marines with the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, lived was gone.

No freakin’ way, I thought. Just to be sure, I ran to the other side of my

tent. I knew from here I’d have to see the building.

Sure enough, as I rounded the other side, there was nothing but a mushroom cloud where the barracks building once was.

It was at that moment I realized the cakewalk was over.

Rescuers search through the rubble of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, shortly after the attack Oct. 23, 1983. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Gaddo)

Now, this was for real.

I arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, May 29, 1983, aboard the USS El Paso. Half my platoon had been to Beirut the first time 24th Marine Amphibious Unit went to Lebanon in Oct. 1982. They told us being stationed here was like a holiday.

When outside the wire, though, we saw blown up motorcycles and buildings that hinted at a fight we weren’t a part of.

My days consisted of driving to the embassy to transport Marines or supplies, picking up troops from the beach, delivering chow to line troops and dumping trash. We always heard the fighting, but we were there to be peacekeepers and not get involved.

I woke up the morning of Oct. 23 when my buddy Lance Cpl. Ronald Putnam returned from his night duty around six. He wanted to go get chow at the BLT, but since I had Meals Ready to Eat in my tent already, I decided to just cook them up in there and deliver them to the line troops. As I began boiling water, Putnam told me how the base had been put on high alert because there had been a terrorist threat the night before.

By this time, a few other Marines in our tent began to get up and move around. Suddenly, we all heard an explosion that sounded like artillery round had hit right outside our tent.

A second later, chunks of concrete were coming through our tent. In an instant, chaos broke out. Everyone was yelling, “Get to the bunkers; get to the bunkers!”

I was already running to the bunker. As soon as we were all inside, I heard someone say that the BLT was gone. Slowly, we emerged from the bunkers and the rumors were confirmed.

Honestly, I can’t remember what happened on our trip from the bunker to the site of the explosion. Maybe I saw something so terrible my mind blocked it out. But my memory picks back up five minutes later as I stood next to a pile of rubble amidst the settling dust of the explosion.

All I could think was, What’s next? Will they attack again?

Those thoughts only lingered in my mind for a minute, because reality took over. We had to help our Marines.

Lance Cpl. Timothy McCoskey (center) and Lance Cpl. Ronald Putnam (right) play cards in Beirut. (Photo courtesy of Tim McCoskey)

The building was like nothing I’d ever seen. Everything was mangled. Dust was flying everywhere so it was difficult to breathe. People walked around who had just gotten out of the building. They were full of concrete dust. Some were bloody.

Right away, we started sifting through the rubble for survivors. Occasionally we could hear muffled cries for help. We would have to sift through the concrete to slowly uncover those trapped. We transported the injured to the Marine Security Guard building, which became our aid station. It was difficult work because debris was everywhere.

A few Marines found one body under the rubble that was still zipped up in a sleeping bag. They decided to take him out of his sleeping bag before putting him in a body bag. When they unzipped the bag he opened his eyes and said, “Anybody got a Pepsi?”

After a while of picking through the debris, we started to run out of survivors. That’s when we began to come across the dead. My buddies, Lance Cpl. Tony McVeigh and Putnam and I started hauling bodies and loading them onto the trucks. Eventually, we began piling the bodies any way we could so we could transport them faster. We took them to the airport hangar and stacked them in three rows of ten. The rows just went on and on down the hangar. I stopped counting at 150 bodies and went back to retrieve more.

When we didn’t have any bodies to take to the hangar, we sifted through the rubble. We found one Marine whose legs were pinned by a huge beam. We went to get a crane, but I was filled with this crazy-ass strength and just lifted the beam off of him. Another Marine grabbed him, and we pulled him out of there.

At one point as we were walking through the rubble looking for any signs of life, a Marine hollered that he had found another survivor.

We rushed over and began digging. We dug for what must have been 10 minutes, or maybe it was 30 minutes, but finally we saw two fingers – just two fingers moving.  The sign of life motivated us to work harder and we started pulling out pieces of concrete. The more we dug, the more of the survivor we uncovered. There was a huge piece of concrete that was about three feet by three feet and six inches thick. I don’t know how I did it, but I just picked it up and moved it off of him. Eventually, we got to the point where we were able to identify him as the chaplain and uncovered all of his body except for one ankle.

The Marine Corps flag stands tall among the rubble after the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Gaddo)

The chaplain started screaming at us, “Get me out of here. Get me out of here!”

At that point we realized if we moved any more debris, the building would collapse on the chaplain. I wanted to just yank the chaplain out and run the risk that he would lose his foot, but was ordered to continue to uncover him.

I slid into the tiny space where the chaplain was trapped, with my arms protecting my head, so I could remove the rubble. Sure enough as soon as I moved the piece of concrete, that portion of the building collapsed on the chaplain and me. We were pinned underneath the rubble for about 30 minutes before the other Marines were able to free us.

Thankfully the chaplain was all right, and although I had no circulation in my arms for half an hour, I was uninjured.

 

Even while rescuing as many Marines as we could, we had to stay on our guard. While I was loading bodies on the truck, I caught sniper fire and had to lie down on the dead bodies for cover. We had to trust that our infantry Marines on the perimeter were doing their job, so we could take care of our own.

As we got deeper into the pile of rubble, we began to find arms and legs and bodies that were charred from the fire. There were some really mangled Marines in there. There was one Marine I will never forget. I could make out a Pegasus tattoo on his arm, but a concrete slab had taken his entire face off. Those are the things that haunt my dreams at night.

During the rescue efforts, we had to be cruel. We couldn’t have emotion. You had to block out what you were seeing, because there was no way any of us would have made it through otherwise.

When I was a teenager, I once attended an open-casket memorial and vowed I would never touch a dead body. Now, just a few years later, I was hauling countless of my fallen comrades from the rubble in Beirut.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Gaddo)

After three days, I was ordered to get some food and sleep. I went back to my tent and tried to eat an MRE. I took one whiff of it and felt sick to my stomach. I laid down on my cot with my cammies still on, but when I closed my eyes, all I could see was dead people. Then I felt something brush against my leg and that was it – I was up and back at the rescue site.

About five days into the rescue efforts, they chased us off and the FBI came in to investigate. All the able-bodied Marines went back to our normal duties for the next few weeks until we pulled out of Lebanon. But none of us were ever quite the same.

Most of us wanted to stay. We wanted to find those responsible for the explosion and repay them for all our brothers lost. But we followed orders and returned to the States Dec. 7. It was then that reality began to set in.

When we shared our stories with those back home, they just didn’t understand. No one could comprehend what we went through there. No one could understand the nightmares that filled my nights and the faces I’d see when I closed my eyes. No one except for the Marines who were there will ever fully understand.

It’s been 29 years since the bombing, but I still have a nightmare every once in a while. I’ve stayed in touch with a handful of my buddies from Beirut, and we try to get together a few times a year. Although we all bear the scars of that day, we also learned just how valuable life is. We made it through Beirut together, and we will continue to look out for each other as long as we can because that’s what Marines

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  • Steve Brent

    Semper Fi! That was a sad day… an incomprehensible loss. No matter what time has passed it always hits me about the same way when I let myself think of it.

  • Roueida Nial Abouzaki

    Your page brought tears to my eyes, memory of my childhood when the Marined were in Beirut in the 80′s! It’s been 30 years since the bombing, but I still have a nightmare every once in a while!

  • kgandy

    I agree and I contacted several of our news agencies here and only one picked up the story and ran with it. Below is the piece that they did with my husband, who would have been there if not for some problems with the pregnancy of our first child. We loss so many of our friends, and yet it truly amazed me the number of my student’s that did not know anything about this….it has become my mission to get this out there and remembered and added to the history books….Below is the piece:

  • kgandy

    Your dad would be proud of you and the fact that you are teaching his grandson’s about this and their grandpa. I know that as a teacher, my husband having been in Beirut, it was to my surprise that this is not mentioned in history books (if it is it’s only two to three lines) it does not mention the number of lives lost! So it was important to me to get the word out and educate my students, due to the friends we loss that day–I thought I would share the news piece with you:

  • HT3 Huot

    I was on the USS New Jersey for the last part of the deployment in lebanon, my shipmates told me the capt. requested permission to unload the ship on those ragheads. Instead I was told he was allowed to send one round for each Marine/sailor/soldier that was killed that day. Don’t know how true that was, but, that was the skuttlebutt…god bless our fallen friends….

  • Burt

    Can’t agree — we walked around waiting to be shot at. It was a stupid position to put us in. I was there in 82 and we walked around with our weapons unloaded — Next time build a wall to keep them from killing each other. It won’t work either — but at least 241 lives can be spared.

  • Jeff Beisker

    I was on board the USS Juno in the Sea Of Japan when we felt the ship turn. We were then ordered to our quarters. We were informed that our brothers had been hit in Lebenon. We thought for sure that “Ronnie” would send us over there to kick some arse… Did not happen….I am a fan of “Ronnie” except for his call on that….Sad day…J.L.B. 0311 2/5

  • karl

    I liked Reagan, but he was wrong to pull out. The marines should have been allowed to hunt those maggots down. Karl…an old marine.

  • Anonymous

    Tragic and a disaster that should of been prevented. Hard to do when you tie the arms of the Marines. One of the saddest days for me and my family as I grew up apart of a Marine family. My father served under Chesty Puller and my brother who was out of boot camp at this time and as serve and been apart of Force Recon or what it was once called now(MArSOC). I think it was great to find out Israel finally took care of man behind bombings of barracks and embassies with a car bomb. It only took lil over 25 yrs. Worse was realizing that PRESIDENT Reagan or admin never were going to keep their promise and bring those behind this to justice. Especially finding that the man behind and Israel killed with car bomb. Had lived out in the open and freely all these years between Syria and Lebanon. That I hope brings comforts to those effected by this tragedy. My heart goes out to any and everyone who has lost s love who served our country. Also a Big Thank You to all who served and serving our country;

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayne.denman Wayne Denman

    I was there with HMM261 Raging Bulls Rein. We were headed to Beirut when we got redirected to Grenada. After Grenada we went on to Beirut and got there shortly after the bombing.

    Semper Fi Marines

  • mckenzie

    Tim is a true American and one Great Marine! Thanks for all that you did and do for our country!

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.c.shepard Timothy C. Shepard

    I was on leave PCS from HQ Co 2nd MAR heading to HI and 1st MAB. I woke up to this the day after my 19th birthday. Never could understand why we never did anything about it.

  • C Will

    I recall hearing about the Beirut bombing and we talked about it in 10th grade history class. That day I decided to become a Marine and 2 yrs later, did so. Always keep the memory and great things these Marines did alive! Semper Fi !

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.d.vernon.5 Michael D. Vernon

    There is a movie in development that features the bombing as a centerpiece of the script, it’s called The Hot Dog Harry Story help make it happen.

  • Sherry Johnson( Hairston)

    My father LCpl Thomas Hairston was one of many marines that lost there lives on this tragic day.I was just a baby a year and eleven months exactly, so i dont remember my father at all, i feel robbed of my childhood, and robbed of my father daughter relationship….People say time heals all wounds but it has yet to happen,daddy i love and miss you dearly.. You have two beauriful grandsons and I am teaching them about this tragedy and you…So your death will not be in vai….Semper Fi

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.warden1 Mike Warden

    I was in BLT 13 when this happened. As an 0311, I thought for sure we were going to deploy and actually DO something about this horrific act of terrorism. Silly me. This was a leadership failure……from the Commandant on down. That truck should have NEVER been allowed to get within 10 miles of that compound. Let us pray that Marines’s never have to perform under such asinine Rules of Engagement again. God Bless ALL marine’s who were part of that unit.

  • Dave Madaras

    Semper Fi my brother.

  • Jeff Hamman

    Cpl Flowers, thank you so much for taking the time to bring attention to this important part of history. Most people born after 1983 are not even aware of this event. Thanks for keeping the memory alive… it is important to remember the fallen.

  • LoneTree, WY

    I was with 2nd battaltion/ 7th Marines in Camp Pendleton when the bombing occurred. We were as horrified, as we were POSITIVE the country would send in her Marines to exact justice for the victims. This many years later I still cannot fathom how we allowed this to occur without some retribution, and I still feel the lack of political will to forcefully respond only encouraged later terrorist acts. Semper Fi to the survivors and the families of the fallen… Sergeant Ruben Navarro; 1980-88, MOS 0311// MOS 8541

  • Bill Kibler

    Hey Tim you forgot your Letterman appearance :D (Now that was talent!) — Semper Fi, Bill Kibler ()

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.carroll.376 Pat Carroll

    As a member of the 8th Marines from 79-83 I was told by and old Marine–the one thing we always must do is remember them, and never forget them

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.bothwell.7 Don Bothwell

    Thank you for remembering. Sempre Fi. Never forget

  • http://twitter.com/jeremyvought Jeremy Vought

    Never Forget. Watch and remember. The day America was thrust against terror.

  • Steve & Debra

    Tim is one outstanding Marine and his family is very proud of him. Even after leaving the Marines, he continues to live with courage and integrity.