In the five years since a suicide terrorist destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut and killed 241 U.S. servicemen, thoughts of the "devastation and agonies" have diminished, but the father of one of the dead pleaded that they not be forgotten.
About 50 friends and relatives of those killed gathered Sunday, the fifth anniversary of the bombing, for a wreath-laying ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery.The chalk-white gravestones stood out amidst the brilliant fall foliage and unblemished blue sky as flags of the Marine color guard flapped in the wind during the memorial for the servicemen, most of them Marines, who were sent to Beirut by President Reagan on a peacekeeping mission.
The men were killed as they lay sleeping early on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, when a driver on a suicide mission crashed into their barracks with a flatbed truck laden with explosives.
"It is difficult to recall the horror, the devastation and the agonies that preceded this day five years ago," said John Knipple, whose son, James, was killed in the attack. "The (servicemen) need to be honored, they need to be remembered. Please remember them."
Kevin Jiggetts, a survivor of the attack, addressed the crowd, which included military officials and diplomats from France and Lebanon.
"On this day in 1983, 241 of my best friends, your sons, your fathers, were taken from us by this act of terrorism," Jiggets said.
The service also honored 56 French servicemen killed in a separate terrorist attack in Beirut the same day.
"Many, many Marines gave their lives to the cause and principles of their country as they saw them," said Marine Maj. Gen. Robert Winglass. "The sons of France were also consumed by the holocaust of the day."
"These were good men. These were honorable men," Winglass said. "And these were men who were serving their country and trying to bring peace to a small country on the Mediterranean."
"The act of terrorism was wrong . . . it was conducted against good men, and it was definitely wrong," said Winglass. "I think that's the great lesson that was learned from the Beirut experience - (terrorism) is no longer recognized by any person of any stature and dignity as having any foundation in principle. It's rejected universally across this country and across the world, literally."
Two children recited a peace pledge, one in English, one in Arabic. Some of the relatives wept quietly throughout the service. Uniformed Junior Marine Corps ROTC members lay red roses on the gravestones of some of the slain.
On Saturday, about 500 people attended a memorial service at Camp Lejeune N.C., the home base of many of the Marines. The statue of a lone Marine, his gun raised, was unveiled, bearing the inscription "They came in peace."
The L.A. Times reported Sunday that clues identifying the forces behind the bombing have been assembled by the departments of State, Justice, Defense and the CIA.