Oct. 23, 2013, marks the 30th anniversary of the Beirut Bombing. 241 American and 58 French service members were killed when two trucks filled with explosives crashed into the two barracks buildings. One of the 300 service members who lived in the building shares the story of the attack, his survival and how he lives with the memories.
You know what it’s like when you are half asleep and half awake? Not being one way or the other, but both at the same time? That was the way I was when I heard the yelling and the gunfire. I heard a crashing sound and felt the shake. I remember sitting up, still in my sleeping bag on the third floor of the building, looking over at my best friend. He sat up on his side, looked straight at me and opened his mouth to say something. That is when it hit.
At 6:22 a.m., a truck filled with 2,000 pounds of explosives crashed into a Marine barracks building in Beirut, Lebanon. 220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers were killed in the explosion, making the bombing the most deadly attack against Marines since the 1945 battle over Iwo Jima. U.S. service members were sent to Beirut on a peacekeeping mission along with units from France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Cpl. Brian Kirkpatrick, a combat engineer with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, was sleeping on the third floor of the barracks when the attack happened.
It was like someone put a giant hose attachment over my head and switched it on. I was flung head over heels and hit something hard with my back. My knees were jammed up into my chest. I didn’t scream — I couldn’t. All I could manage to do was a whimper-sort of whine that got cut off as everything went black.
When I came to, I was vertical, my feet dangled and my chest was pinned against something. I thought it was like the movies where you keep calm and someone will eventually come get you. Then I heard the screams of the others and my brain screamed, “Yell or they won’t come!” So I yelled until I was hoarse, but nobody came. By this time the rubble was filling in around the upper part of my body little by little until I couldn’t breathe. I managed to wiggle myself out only to realize, as I was slipping free, that I could still be on the third floor. I screamed as I fell, expecting my fall to be from the third floor. Turns out, I was only three feet off the ground.
I landed in a pocket of rubble that had not collapsed. I rolled on my back, put on what was left of my glasses, and tried to figure out what happened. I was bleeding, my ribs hurt, and my left eye was not working. I crawled and dug toward the small glimmer of light I saw. As I tried to get out, I saw things that I can’t tell you about now. I don’t think I can go down that road again.
When I stumbled out of the rubble and into the light, I realized the entire building was gone. I expected to step out to what was left of the third floor, but it just wasn’t there.
Lebanese soldiers arrived at the scene to help dig service members out of the rubble. They set up a makeshift medical area where they treated Kirkpatrick and the other wounded. Two of Kirkpatrick’s Marines found him as he was getting treated. When Kirkpatrick asked who else from the platoon had made it, he found out he was the only one so far. “We all began to cry and we all held on to each other tight,” Kirkpatrick said.
I ended up on a British Royal Air Force airplane that took me to Princess Mary’s Hospital in Cyprus. They took care of us, but kept us in the dark as to what happened. While I was there, I found two others from my platoon. We sat down to make a list of who was in our platoon and noted whether or not we saw them alive. The newspapers started posting the list of casualties, so I sat down with my list and recorded who made it and who did not. The list grew every day until I realized all but four guys in my 12-man squad were gone and most of the platoon was gone, including my best friend Doug.
In the span of ten days, I went from being with my boys, to getting blown up, to driving my car down Lejeune Boulevard thinking, No way is this real. What the heck happened?
Five months after the attack, international forces withdrew from Lebanon. Kirkpatrick went on to retire as a first sergeant after serving more than 21 years in the Corps.
That was 30 years ago, and these are the memories I wake up to each morning. The nightmares that made me feel like I was back there on that day have since faded. The ones that still come up from time to time are the dreams where I am back there during the good times before the bombing. In those dreams I’m sitting with my boys and we are playing cards. I can feel the sun, smell the smells and it seems so real. They are not as painful as before because now, I look at these dreams as opportunities to see my boys again.
// By Cpl. Chelsea Flowers Anderson as told by Tim McCoskey
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, [Read more…]