MENTOR, Ohio (WJW) — If you lived it, you’ll always remember it. The story is inside you and needs to be told.
Because you owe it to those who are not here, and letting them slide into history is not going to happen — not on your watch.
“I didn’t do anything in my life. I was just there in the right place at the wrong time, or the wrong place at the right time,” Terry Valore said.
The Marine headquarters at the airport in Beirut was barracks to hundreds of military personnel. They came in peace, but terrorism found them at 6:22 a.m. on Oct. 23, 1983.
“I was on the second floor at the time of the blast. The truck actually went right underneath me. I looked down and saw the rear end lying on a sandbag and covered my face,” Velore said. “I hit the pillar behind me, which kept me from getting smashed.”
A suicide truck bomb denotated with the force of 12,000 pounds of TNT. It lifted the building off its foundation and collapsed it, killing 220 marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. Fifty-eight French paratroopers died in a second blast.
USS Iwo Jima, the home ship for the battalion, began seeing casualties within hours of the blast.
“My squad leader came in. He was from Michigan. He managed to crawl out of the building he was in,” said Lee Benzo, a former Marine Corporal who was stationed on the Iwo Jima.
“I went back on shore the next morning — myself and the corporal that was with me and another lance corporal. We went to help with the recovery efforts,” he said. “You could still hear the screams the next morning. That’s nothing I’d wish on anybody.”
It was the worst single-day loss of life for the Marine Corps since the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
But numbers don’t count. People do. These were their buddies and fellow Marines, and remembering those who were lost is a duty that these men hold dear.
“The hard part about it is that we lost 240 guys that day. We lost 270 from ’82 to ’84. We’re kind of forgotten. They talk about Korea being a forgotten war. We’re a forgotten mission,” former Marine Cpl. Rick Cunningham said.
There are monuments to the dead, including in Struthers, near Youngstown, which list the names of the 13 Ohio marines and one sailor who died in the blast. On that monument in Struthers is the name of Cpl. George Gangur of Cleveland.
Nada Jurist is Gangur’s sister. She always thinks of her rowdy little brother who wanted to become an engineer. Valore was his best friend in the Corps.
“It’s kind of nice to see the love. It really is,” Jurist said. “The camaraderie and how they take care of each other — it’s very cool.”
On Oct. 23 at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the Marine Corps will remember the Lebanon Marines at a memorial on base, like they have had every year since that day.
But this 40th anniversary is a big milestone that will see hundreds of them gather to remember the dead and to make sure that their service is not forgotten.
And every day, these men remember.
Because if you haven’t lived it, you need to understand.
And if you’ve lived it, you will always remember.