Beirut, Lebanon, October 23, 1983 – Remember
A few months ago, we asked for personal stories from men stationed in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. We received three – 2 Marines, and one Sailor. They contain emotional recollections that we want to share with you as a reminder that the Beirut bombing was the first time that terrorists struck at the US Military. Who were the terrorists? Allegedly, a group called “Islamic Jihad.” We are now terribly familiar with those two words.
The 24th Marine MAU was deployed to Beirut, Lebanon May-Dec 1983. It turned out to be a fateful deployment. Here are their stories, without comment.
Tim McCoskey, Motor Vehicle Operator, US Marine Corps 1/8
McCoskey stated that as time moved forward prior to the bombing, attacks stepped up in frequency. It went from the truck drivers just taking off on a run by themselves, to having armed escorts. For the first few months, they watched the nightly Beirut firefights from their tents as if they were watching a television show, but that soon changed as the artillery shells got closer and closer.
October 23 (Paraphrased from video below) –
“…We did a chow run at 7 a.m…. Suddenly BOOM! Concrete starts coming in. We headed for the bunkers. There was this mushroom cloud- a black cloud of smoke… Everybody now knows what it is because of 9-11, but then, nobody had ever seen such a thing.
…My memory stopped for a minute. Then we started in after the casualties… we got body duty.
…We started loading bodies on the truck until we were told to stack more of them on there… We got that done and then we moved to the trapped ones…I thought, ‘What the hell just happened?’ But I had to save my brothers. I ain’t got time to think about it, ya know?”
…About 80% of my platoon stayed up for 5 days until the FBI kicked us out… The crater was 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide from the blast. I lifted a beam off a Marine that was trapped up to the top of his legs …I don’t know how, but I did it.
…While we were digging I found the chaplain buried under the rubble. I knew the building was about to collapse, but we had to get him out. So I got in there…and the building collapsed on us. I had trouble with my arms after that, but I thought, ‘There’s a lot of dead people here, so I can’t complain about my arms.’
…In the middle of all that they were still shooting at us. No remorse at all. Bullets whizzed by all the time. We ran out of body bags and had to have more flown in. We stacked everyone in 3 rows with 10 to a row. I counted them, but stopped at 150.
…My Lieutenant was right outside. His neck was broken, so when he moved his head, he died… I remember a guy with a Pegasus tattoo on his arms. He had no face… I remember trying to match limbs with bodies. After 3 days a commander ordered me to go back and get some rest. But I couldn’t sleep or eat so I just went back out there. Sometimes we had to cut off guys’ hands just to get past the concrete to get them out…
…It takes a lot out of of you to do that. You can’t have compassion because you have to just get things done. It was a “peace keeping” mission that turned into war. Part of you died that day, and you became a different person. One guy’s whole platoon was killed… It’s something that stays with you.
Tom Muldowney, AKA “Irish” – US Marine Corps Bravo 1/8, Weapons Platoon
We were stationed then on the eastern Airport perimeter. I was knocked on my ass by the blast wave. Then [I] ran to the command hootch. First Sgt Creech was already up and putting on his blouse. He asked “Irish, WTF happened?”
I said, “Something damn big hit the BLT.”
“Go into the Capt’s quarters and tell him.” FSgt replied. But the Capt yelled out that he was up and coming out. The three of us hustled towards the tarmac to get a better view, but the mushroom cloud had collapsed back down over the HQ and nothing could be seen.
“Grab a jeep, a radio and another Marine,” said the Capt, “head over there and call back asap. Tell me what you see.”
I followed his orders. The debris pile rose about 70 meters away from the BLT. Visibility was less than 10 feet. As I climbed, I saw the tops of the now de-neutered trees at my feet, so I knew that I was at least 15 feet above the ground. It was still impossible to see the building thru the suspended dust but I could make out that the building I knew was gone.
Only a rubble pile remained. I radioed back to the Capt. and told him what I had seen. I don’t know why but I ended my report with these words, “Sir, you’re the senior Company commander. I think you might be BLT commander now.” Unfortunately, I was correct.
I spent the rest of that horrific day digging and gathering bodies, torsos and limbs, first outside the remains of the building, then crawling around inside with many heroic Red Crescent workers.
I held two brothers while they breathed their last.
Then I heard muffled pleas, yelled for everybody to freeze and STFU. I located the source of the sounds under one of the collapsed upper floors covered with file cabinets and remnants of office furniture. Somewhere underneath was a live Marine pleading for help. I started to pull debris off of the pile while yelling to him that I’d heard him and wasn’t leaving till I got him out. As fast as I could remove the debris above him, more slid down from above. So, I started to dig at the base of the pile. First, I uncovered his right forearm and followed it to his hand. Dug up to his shoulder and eventually uncovered his head.
I washed his face clean and gave him a drink. It took about an hour to finish the job and drag him out, put him on a stretcher and, with more Red Crescent help, got him out of the remains of the building. He was the only guy I found that F’ed Up day that had a good chance of surviving.
A few months later, we met, accidentally, at Geiger’s Motor T yard, barged into the NCO club as it was being cleaned that morning and got good and drunk. I hope to meet him again one day, at one of the Remembrances. My brain got pretty twisted up over the coming decades. I’ve forgotten much more than I remember. I can’t even recall his name now, just his nickname, Spade. But last year, I saw a picture posted by Richard Truman with Richard having a reunion with one of the guys he took care of that morning back on the ships. A shock ran down my spine. I swear that I believe that Richard and I helped the same Marine. I can’t be sure until I see him in person and feel the scars on his right arm. Richard gave me the only contact source he had, an e-mail address. Richard told me that he has never gotten a response from repeated emails he has sent. But he thinks that our bro only comes to every fifth reunion. So I’m waiting for 2018.
Robert McLeod, US Navy- USS Iwo Jima stationed off the coast of Lebanon
It started with the boatswain’s mate sounding flight quarters (this was something that we were used to hearing in those days), but there was something not right in his voice. Once on the flight deck, the first helo was already heading towards us. Needless to say, not all hands were on the flight deck by that time. I went inside the helo to carry off some of the first wounded Marines.
I remember carrying off a Marine in his combat gear. I did not know if he was alive or dead. While we where carrying him to the aircraft elevator for medical treatment, he did open his eyes, so I did know that he was alive.
As the day went on, the wounded kept coming in. Those that were treated and could be moved, were flown out for better treatment. The sad fact is that not every Marine made it to down to the hanger bay for medical treatment. They came back up in body bags. When I had a chance to go below decks to get something to eat, I was able to see how the rest of the crew where doing. Every member was doing their share to make sure that every Marine was taken care of. This went on for most of the day. I could not tell you when we stopped and left the flight deck that day. We just kept flying the Marines on and off the ship.
I thought, ‘Is this for real and why are we not going after those who did this to us?’ And I was angry.
I survived that day by doing what I was trained to do. After that day not so well. I was not well received back home. ( I came home early). What I can say about those Sailors and Marines of the Airwing? We took care of our fellow service members that day. Even though this was a small piece of history, it is a piece of history that should never be forgotten.
This an interview by another media with Tim McCoskey: