Marine Museum Keeping Beirut Memories Alive

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2008

At 6 a.m. on Oct. 23, 1983, the alarm clock for Marine Maj. Robert Jordan began to sound.

It was a Sunday in Beirut, Jordan said, which meant he got to roll over and hit the snooze button instead of report to duty.

The Defense Department and Marine Corps spokesman pulled his camouflage blanket over his head to go back to sleep. But after just 22 minutes, a deafening noise erupted and his building began to shake.

One of the deadliest attacks on Americans overseas had just occurred 100 yards from his building's front door.

"It was the loudest explosion I had ever heard," Jordan said. "It imploded all our doors and windows. . . . It's all still very vivid."

On Wednesday, Jordan and about a dozen other Beirut veterans assembled at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico to share their stories and unveil a new exhibit that commemorates that day 25 years ago when a terrorist drove a truck filled with explosives into the four-story Battalion Landing Team 1/8 Headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 Americans and wounding hundreds.

The exhibit, "Where Do We Get Such Men?," uses photos and quotes to chronicle the Marines' peacekeeping mission from August 1982 to February 1984. It goes over the attack on the Marine barracks as well as the attack the same day at the French headquarters in Lebanon in which 58 paratroopers were killed.

"The anniversary of the attack is marked each year by fellow Marines, and it should be remembered and studied by all," Museum Director Lin Ezell said about opening the exhibit. "Many historians tracking the history on the global war of terrorism go back to what happened in Lebanon."

The exhibit is the first of several that will come through the museum and mark the period since 1975, Ezell said, noting that the museum currently covers World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It will remain open for a year and is financed by a donation from Marine H. Furlong Baldwin. The amount of the donation was not disclosed.

"I was very disappointed when the museum opened and only had one piece of concrete from the bombing," Jordan said. "Because it wasn't a war, it gets forgotten."

Jordan said he is happy to see the three-panel display the museum now has to commemorate the event. Although some have forgotten what happened 25 years ago, he never will.

Jordan said that after his building stopped shaking that day, he shuffled through the debris and put on his "battle dress," still unaware of how bad the situation was. As he headed toward the barracks, on the grounds of Beirut International Airport, he began to realize the extent of what had just occurred.

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