Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quantico remembers Beirut

Museum exhibit honors 25th anniversary

The National Museum of the Marine Corps unveiled an exhibit Oct. 15, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

Titled ‘‘Where Did We Get Such Men,” the exhibit documents the Oct. 23, 1983, attack on the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion 8th Marines Headquarters, when a suicide bomber crashed a truck full of explosives through security and detonated it under the HQ building, killing 241 Americans.

The title of the exhibit was taken from then Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley’s welcome to the survivors upon their return to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

He said, ‘‘When I met the first flight of your fallen comrades as they arrived at Dover, Delaware, after the mass murder of 23 October, I asked the question, Lord, where do we get such men? As you stand here today I ask the same question. Where do we get such men of courage — such men of dedication — such men of patriotism — such men of pride? The simple answer is that we get them from every clime and place, from every race, from every creed, and from every color.”

‘‘Where Do We Get Such Men” chronologically depicts the Marine peacekeeping mission from August 1982 until February 1984 through quotes, photographs and selected art from the Marine Corps Combat Art Collection.

Base Commander Col. Charles Dallachie, a survivor of the Beirut bombing, was present for the unveiling, along with other survivors. like David Madaras, who was a 22-year-old Marine at the time of the bombing.

‘‘I am extremely honored to be here for the opening of this exhibit,” Madaras said. ‘‘Now I can bring my children here and say this is what we did. It almost brings a tear to my eyes to see this exhibit.”

Gregory Balzer, chief of operations for Training and Education Command, had left the Marine barracks one day before the bombing to go to the presidential palace, located a few miles away.

‘‘I woke up to the loudest noise you ever heard. Then I heard a second explosion,” Balzer recalled. ‘‘Initially, I feared the palace was under attack. Then came the reports of mass casualties at the barracks. TV reports brought home the devastation visually.”

‘‘There is such activity in coordinating the evacuation, you go on auto-pilot. You’re just sort of numb,” Balzer said.

Then, the realization hits home, hard. ‘‘You’ve just lost every friend you have made in your short Marine Corps career,” Balzer said. ‘‘Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them.”

As for the exhibit, Balzer said it is recognition that is long overdue.

‘‘It was a tragic defeat, and the Marine Corps doesn’t celebrate defeat,” Balzer said. ‘‘The first lesson is to look at what went wrong, what went right. Some people would say we are celebrating a tragedy, ... but we need to learn from this experience.”

‘‘Today we open a modest panel exhibit that glimpses a time of great tension when Marines, sailors and their European allies were sent to a city torn by war in 1982 to further an agenda of diplomacy. But instead of peace, they got war,” said museum director, Lin Ezell.

The anniversary of the Beirut bombing is marked each year by Marines remembering their fellow fallen brethren who were killed that day.

According to Ezell, exhibits like this will keep the memory of ‘‘Such Men” alive.