Welcome to Seacoast Marines Beirut page.

October 23, 2003 marked the 20th Anniversary
of the Bombing of The Marine BLT in Beirut.
Added News Story Dedicated to the Marines who
served in Beirut and Grenada on the Beirut Page.
On a personal note from the webmaster. Nick Zingaro was a local surfer
around these parts in the late 80's early 90's. He shaped his own boards.
He ended up moving to the West Coast. What most people didn't know
about Nick was that he was a Marine grunt serving in Beirut in 1983.
Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Terrorist bombing in Beirut
that killed 241 Marines and Sailors.
So Nick, if you're reading this today
Semper Fi and keep surfing!

Lives shattered in seconds one fall morning
Camp Lejeune will honor victims
of Beirut bombing

Staff Writers

After five months of explosions and gunfire, the home to more than
1,000 Marines in Beirut was unusually quiet that Sunday morning in October.

Bacon fried in the hulking four-story barracks as cooks prepared a rare hot
breakfast. Sunlight streamed through bullet holes in the door
of one officer's quarters.

For the first time in two weeks, chaplain Danny Wheeler spent the
night in his own room instead of the basement, where Marines
huddled to survive heavy shelling. Lance Cpl. Mike Toma, weary
from guard duty, slept late on his cot at the edge of the barracks,
next to his best friend.

Thousands of miles away, five letters from Lance Cpl. Johnny Copeland
were waiting in a post office for his parents in Burlington, N.C. Copeland
told them he was scared and frustrated by the constant shellings and
the search for car bombs. "Mom and Dad," he wrote, "sometimes I think
I'm going to lose it."

At the Marines' base in Jacksonville, N.C., Patty Gerlach, wife of the
battalion commander, had just put her two children to bed after a party
for the officers' wives. They had been celebrating their husbands'
expected return in about a month.

At that moment in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, no one worried about the
familiar-looking yellow Mercedes truck circling the parking lot of the
Marine base. The troops didn't know the terrorist group Hezbollah had
ambushed the real water-delivery truck and replaced it with their own.

In the back, it carried what the FBI would later call the largest non-nuclear
explosive device ever created. The bomb would bury Wheeler, Toma,
Copeland and hundreds of others under concrete and twisted steel,
leaving many struggling to breathe and praying to live.

The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit out of Camp Lejeune landed in
Beirut in May 1983. Their mission: Provide stability in a country wracked
by civil war. It proved futile. Within weeks, some Marines say they had
seen and heard so many clashes they could pick out which factions
were fighting and the weapons being fired by the sound and
color of the flashes.

Wheeler, a Vietnam vet, had left the military in 1972 and later joined
the Wisconsin National Guard. He had always admired his pastor, so after
college, he attended seminary. In 1982, he saw news of Marines deploying
to Beirut. He wondered whether he should go and prayed for guidance.
A week later, he was asked to go on active duty.

As chaplain, Wheeler visited bunker after bunker, consoling Marines
furious with their limited rules of engagement, designed to portray
them as neutral peacekeepers.

Marines carried cards printed with the 10 rules. No. 1 forbade them from
keeping a round in the chamber of their weapons, and they could rarely
shoot back. Even after their buddies died in crossfire. Or when they
saw women and children killed.

By October, attendance at church services had doubled. One of
Wheeler's best friends on the base asked to be baptized, saying he had
always told his wife he would know when to find religion. As Wheeler
recited John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son --
he heard artillery exploding in the background.

Copeland had been promoted from private first class to lance corporal
after arriving in Beirut. The 19-year-old proudly asked his parents to start
putting the new rank on his letters and wanted his mom to find some
lance corporal stripes for his dress uniform sleeves.

As the weeks wore on, his letters, written from the basement shelter as
the Marines were under fire, changed from asking for chocolate chip
cookies to describing his growing fears. He longed to go home to hunt
and fish with his father and brother.

"They've got us searching for car bombs," he wrote to his parents
Oct. 3, 1983 "I don't like that at all."

Toma, a 20-year-old from Pittsburgh who joined the Marines right out
of high school, guarded convoys and supply trucks on trips through Beirut.
He remembers war-weary residents initially smiling and waving to the Marines.
Smiles soon turned to jeers. Then hurled tomatoes. Then sniper fire.

On Oct. 19, Toma raced through empty streets, escorting a 5-ton
chow truck and Col. Tim Geraghty -- who had removed his eagle insignias
so snipers wouldn't know his rank. A bomb planted in a white Mercedes
exploded next to the truck, in front of Toma's armed jeep. He slammed on
the brakes as the street filled with dark smoke. The force from the blast
rammed another jeep into a telephone pole.

The Marines jumped out and formed a defensive ring, their backs to one
another. With gunfire all around, Toma couldn't tell whether someone
was aiming for them. Several tense minutes passed until backup arrived.
Everyone made it, shaken but OK.

It was another example of what worried Geraghty and the battalion
commander, Lt. Col. Larry Gerlach, prompting Geraghty to warn their superiors.
The Marines -- outmanned and outgunned by forces fighting to topple the
American-backed government -- were now the targets.

Back home, where the officers' families had all ordered the new cable
network CNN, Patty Gerlach's phone often rang after wives saw initial reports
of injured Marines. Gerlach would call the regiment's executive officer,
trying to find out who was hurt.

On Oct. 22, the officers' wives met for coffee. They talked about missing
the smell of their husbands on clothes and pillows. Some had just gotten
what they hoped would be their last letters from Beirut before they saw
their husbands again.

At dawn in Beirut on Oct. 23, Sgt. Steve Russell supervised guards at
the main entrance to the barracks as most Marines slept.

The yellow truck circled the parking lot at 6:22 a.m. and crashed
through the barbed wire.

The guards struggled to get off a shot. Russell told others and later
testified that he heard the noise, turned and ran as the truck gunned for
his guard shack. It smashed through a sandbag barrier and rammed into
the lobby. Russell ran through the building atrium and out the other side.

"Hit the deck!" he screamed as he ran. "Hit the deck!"

The driver smiled. Flames leapt from the truck.

`Kill me now or let me live'

The explosion 100 yards away ripped the steel door from Maj. Bob
Jordan's quarters. He shot up in bed as the windows circling
his 20-foot-high room shattered.Outside, the leaves from a hedgerow
had been blown off. Jordan recalls seeing pieces of debris sticking out
of palm trees 30 feet in the air.

He walked through smoke and dust. The smell of burnt flesh mixed
with the stench of propane and powder from the explosives.

Jordan saw the top of a tower normally obscured by the barracks --
known as the Battalion Landing Team headquarters --
where most Marines slept.

"Sir," Jordan remembers his staff sergeant saying, "the BLT is gone."

Jordan was struck by the eerie silence; other Marines heard their
trapped comrades moaning.

Mike Toma struggled into consciousness, lying on a slab of concrete.
Rubble had collapsed on him and his best friend.

Toma could barely breathe. Dust filled his collapsed lung. He felt pain
in his hip, where he later learned a piece of bone had chipped off.
He couldn't hear anything but ringing. One of his eardrums
had ruptured.

He passed out several times. When he was awake, he wasn't
strong enough to move. He tried to shout, "Billy!" to his friend lying
next to him, but Toma's voice was a hoarse croak.

Outside, Marines and sailors who had been blown from their beds
carried bodies to a makeshift triage station more than 200 yards away.
Some of the wounded died on their rescuers' shoulders. A Navy dentist gave
some of the dying a shot of novocaine so they could go peacefully.

A Jewish chaplain held the hands of wounded Marines and prayed. He
remembers tearing off his undershirt for bandages and using his
yarmulke to wipe blood from a Marine's face. When another chaplain saw
the rabbi without his skullcap, he cut a piece of cloth from his camouflage
hat to cover the rabbi's head.

Rescuers remember lifting concrete chunks larger than coffee tables,
searching for bodies. One of the dead was Johnny Copeland, who
had sent his last letters home just days before.

Copeland might have risen at dawn to work out, as he usually did. His
friends aren't sure. His parents received his last five letters the day after the
bombing, not yet knowing his fate.

At Camp Lejeune the morning of the bombing, a 6:30 a.m. call woke
Patty Gerlach, the battalion commander's wife.

"Turn on the TV," Gerlach remembers hearing from another Marine wife.

"Has someone else been killed?" Gerlach asked.

"It's worse than that."

Gerlach put on CNN. Her scream woke the children.

In Beirut, chaplain Danny Wheeler woke to dust settling on his lips.
He couldn't move, trapped by a collapsed wall.

His arms were free, his legs pinned in a fetal position. He couldn't sit up
all the way. He cut his head on support rods jutting from a cinder block.
Blood dripped into his ear.

"God help me!" Wheeler remembers screaming. "Get me out of here!"

As the hours stretched, he sang "Amazing Grace," trying to stay calm.
He waited for rescuers, afraid of closing his eyes and never opening
them again.

"I'm Danny G. Wheeler," he shouted, "and I'm alive! I'm not going to die!"

His voice grew hoarse. He pictured himself as one of the characters
in the Louis L'Amour westerns he had been reading. They always lived.

But at the bottom of a pile of debris, he could barely breathe.

"God," Wheeler whispered, "either kill me now or let me live."

`Is anybody down there?'

Mike Toma saw a thin shaft of light through the concrete chunks and
twisted steel. He couldn't hear with his shattered eardrum, but he felt dust
and dirt falling on his face. He knew someone was digging to rescue him.

Toma was one of the first Marines found alive.

When they pulled him out, he couldn't understand why he could see
bright, blue sky instead of the barracks that normally towered above
him. Someone had to explain days later that it wasn't just Toma and
his bunkmates who had been hit.

A truck bomb had flattened the entire four-story barracks.

Toma's rescuers also pulled out his bunkmates, Lance Cpl. Jeff Nashton
and Toma's best friend, Lance Cpl. Billy Sanpedro.

They were flown to hospitals in Europe. Billy died on the way.

About 80 Marines were found alive in the rubble.
The death toll eventually reached 241 Marines,
soldiers and sailors.

One survivor who had been sleeping on the third floor recalls
crawling over friends' torn limbs, tunneling through the broken
concrete and steel to get out. When he broke into the sunlight,
he was only 3 feet above ground.

About four hours after freeing Toma, rescuers had nearly lost hope
of finding anyone else alive, the Marines' Jewish chaplain said.
Then another chaplain spotted a purple stole, which he recognized
as the religious scarf worn by Danny Wheeler.

"Is anybody down there?" the chaplain yelled.

With his voice lost from singing and shouting, Wheeler tried signaling
to his rescuers. They heard him tap a box that had held prepared meals.
As his rescuers dug, chunks of concrete caved in, crushing him more.

A captain stretched to grab Wheeler's hand. The chaplain's legs
were still pinned.

"Just pull," Wheeler gasped. "Pull me out."

Rescuers carried him away on a stretcher, using his purple
stole as a pillow.The Marines digging through the rubble found
birthday cards and a child's photograph -- but no more survivors.

Patty Gerlach, the battalion commander's wife, slept little Sunday
and Monday nights at her home outside Camp Lejeune. She worried
each passing car would be an olive-colored sedan. She was haunted
by fears of military officers knocking on her door, telling her
she was now a widow.

Three days after the bombing, Gerlach still didn't know her husband
Larry's fate. A general arranged to meet with her and other
wives to share the latest news.

Gerlach was on the phone with Larry's brother when the general
arrived at her home. The commander asked who she was talking to.
When she started to hang up, he ordered her to wait.

The women huddled around.

"Larry is alive," the general said. "Now go tell his brother."

A long list

On his way to Beirut after the bombing, Marine Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley
stopped in Germany. Caskets stacked 12-by-12 were being loaded onto a
C-141 plane bound for the states.Kelley visited the hospital bedside of
Lance Cpl. Jeff Nashton, who had been dragged from the rubble
alongside Mike Toma.

Tubes filled Nashton's body. Dust had temporarily blinded him.
He couldn't believe the commandant had come to see him, Kelley says,
so Nashton leaned forward to feel the four stars on Kelley's shoulder.

Nashton motioned that he wanted to write something. The nurse handed
him a pencil and the clipboard chart listing his temperature and blood pressure.
Nashton scribbled, "Semper fi."

The Marine motto means "always faithful."

Kelley mounted his stars and gave them to Nashton weeks later in a
Maryland hospital. "He deserved them as much as I did," Kelley told
The Observer.

Patty Gerlach sat long hours at her husband's bedside once he returned
to the United States. Initially, Lt. Col. Gerlach had spent several days in a coma.
Doctors didn't know whether he would live. Later, they doubted he
would walk or shake hands.

As he spent months recuperating in hospitals, Gerlach's injuries were
so severe and his mind so scrambled that he had no idea what had happened.
Occasionally, he asked his wife confused questions: Who is paying for this
apartment? Where are my men?

In December, as his unit began returning to Camp Lejeune and
the effects of his concussion faded, Patty Gerlach knew she had
to tell him. She let him watch the news in his hospital room. Slowly,
she explained the tragedy.

What happened to my sergeant major?


My weapons company commander?


She stood beside his bed. Tears filled his eyes.

It's a long list, she said.

20th Anniversary Remembrance

Beirut survivors and family members will gather this week in
Jacksonville for the 20th anniversary of the bombing. Nearly 2,000 are expected,
making it the largest remembrance ever held for the men who died, said
Maj. Bob Jordan, founding president of the Beirut Veterans of America.

Services will start before dawn Thursday with a candlelight vigil. Officers
will read the names of the 241 servicemen killed in the barracks bombing
and 31 who died during missions in Lebanon and Grenada.

Retired Gen. Al Gray, former Marine commandant, will deliver the memorial
address at a 10:30 a.m. service, followed throughout the day by receptions
and banquets. The names of those who died are inscribed on a memorial
at Camp Lejeune.

More information can be found at www.beirut-memorial.org or

Washington Inquiries

Members of Congress and the Pentagon-sponsored Long Commission
investigated the bombing to determine whether it could have been prevented.
The commission said failures extended throughout the chain of
command, but it concluded that commanders on the ground must
ultimately bear responsibility.Col. Tim Geraghty and Lt. Col. Larry Gerlach
received what a Pentagon spokesman described at the time as
"non-punitive letters of instruction" that were not included in their permanent
files. None of their superior officers, who had visited the barracks but not
criticized security or ordered changes, was blamed.

Other recommendations of the commission included deploying troops
with a more specific mission, providing better ways to receive reliable
intelligence and determining faster ways to identify casualties. The report also
warned the Pentagon to begin planning ways to defend against terrorism.

Today in Perspective

When terrorists bombed the Beirut Marine barracks, no one saw it as
the first major strike in a two-decade terrorist war against America. But the
U.S. retreat sent an unintended message to the Arab world whose deadly
repercussions were felt on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, with the death toll in Iraq rising, critics of the Bush administration
wonder whether the lessons of Beirut have been forgotten.

How We Did This Story

Observer reporters Peter Smolowitz and Scott Dodd interviewed more
than 30 Beirut survivors, family members, diplomats, commanders, intelligence
operatives and Reagan administration officials to re-create the story of the barracks
bombing. The reporters also reviewed military histories, judicial rulings, participants'
testimony before Congress and a Defense Department commission's
final report on the attack. Contact the reporters at
(704) 358-5168, sdodd@charlotte observer.com or
psmolowitz@ charlotteobserver.com.


Semper Fidelis

"The First Duty is to Remember"
(Motto of the Beirut Veterans Association)


John E. Oliver
H&S Co. and C Co.
BLT 1/8, 24th MAU
Beirut, Lebanon

October 16, 2003

Washington, D.C. -– Each September 11 Americans will commemorate one of the most tragic
days in American history – a day when 2,998 of our friends and neighbors were murdered by fanatic
terrorists. It is a day that will not be forgotten because, for so many Americans, September 11
marks the start of the war on terrorism.

But in fact, terrorists proclaimed war on Americans long before September 11, 2001, and every
time American interests are targeted by these fanatics, there is one American family which
suffers casualties, or is called upon to retaliate, or both. That American family is the United States
Marine Corps. Among their many other duties, Marines have the unique honor and responsibility
of providing security at American embassies around the world where the sentries are ordered to
“take charge of this post and all government property in view.” Unfortunately, embassies tend to
be a favorite target of terrorists.

The Corps’ history of fighting terrorists dates to 1804 when Marine First Lieutenant
Presley O’Bannon led his men to defeat the Barbary Pirates. But the modern day war on
terrorism is often traced to November 4, 1979 when Iranian militants seized the American
embassy in Tehran, Iran and took 66 Americans hostage – 52 of whom would be held in
captivity for 444 days. Four years later, on April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was
attacked when a terrorist drove a pickup truck into the building, killing 63 people,
17 of whom were Americans.

Six months later, U.S. Marines who were helping to keep the peace in Lebanon, were
the target of what was -– prior to September 11, 2001 -– the largest terrorist attack in American
history. At 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, October 23, 1983, a homicide bomber crashed a large Mercedes
truck, loaded with over 2,000 pounds of explosives, through a barbed wire fence and other barriers
into the four-story headquarters of the Marine compound located at Beirut’s airport. The attack
killed 241 Marines, sailors, and one soldier who were members of Battalion Landing Team 1/8,
of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, and instantly turned the building into a pile of rubble.

At the time, the world was a dangerous place –- as it is now. It was the height of the
Cold War, and President Reagan had already branded the Soviet Union, “the Evil Empire.”
One month before, the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner -– Flight 007 – killing all 269
people on board including 61 Americans, one of whom was U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald.
Two days after the Beirut bombing, Marines, along with other U.S. forces, landed on Grenada
to rescue American medical students following a Marxist coup on the island. The threat of terrorism
against Americans had become every bit as real as the dangers of the Cold War and Soviet expansion.

When the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) was ordered to Lebanon from its home at
Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, it was the fourth such Marine unit to serve in the country since
September 1982. They were invited there as part of a Multi-National Peacekeeping Force along with
France, Italy and, later, Great Britain, to help enforce a tenuous peace arrangement between
the various factions in Lebanon.

The Marines’ mission was to control the area around the Beirut International Airport -– Lebanon’s link
to the outside world. During better times, money from rich Arab states used to flow through the international
banks in Beirut, and the city was known as the "Paris of the Middle East." But parts of the country
were deteriorating, and outside the airport perimeter were slums that bred recruits for militant
groups like Hezbollah, which was responsible for the October 23 bombing.

Since 1983, Marines and other U.S. military personnel have been targeted by terrorists in Kuwait,
Bogotá, Madrid, San Salvador, Frankfurt, West Berlin, Riyadh, Dhahran, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam,
and Aden, to name a few. Yet they continue the fight, and today in Afghanistan and Iraq, they
are not only defending Americans from terrorists, but their presence has allowed citizens in
those countries to escape repressive and torturous regimes.

The war against terror, as the President has repeatedly warned, will not be short in
duration, as evidenced by this week’s 20th commemoration of the bloodiest terrorist attack in
U.S. history, prior to September 11. On October 23, Marines all over the world will take a moment to
salute their comrades who were murdered twenty years earlier and then they’ll return to
the fight until it is won.

Perhaps on that day, all Americans can take time to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions
our fellow Marines have made to defend America’s liberty throughout our history, particularly those
who sacrificed their lives from Beirut to Baghdad to defend our nation and bring peace to a violent
part of the world. Semper Fidelis, Marines.
Semper Fidelis.
Lt. Col. Oliver North

On a personal note from the webmaster. Nick Zingaro was a local surfer
around these parts in the late 80's early 90's. He shaped his own boards.
He ended up moving to the West Coast. What most people didn't know
about Nick was that he was a Marine grunt serving in Beirut in 1983.
Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Terrorist bombing in Beirut
that killed 241 Marines and Sailors. So Nick, if you're reading this
today Semper Fi and keep surfing!

We are looking for stories and photos from any Beirut Era Marines.
Please if you have any
please contact us by email or by phone.
We'd love to hear from you.

Call (603) 926-4668













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