BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The U.S. Marine captain climbed onto the Israeli tank, grabbed the Israeli lieutenant colonel with his left hand and pointed his loaded pistol into the air.
'I told him to stop his damned tanks,' Capt. Charles Johnson said quietly Thursday, discussing the confrontation Wednesday between Israeli troops and the U.S. forces on peacekeeping duty south of Beirut.
The Americans were invited into Lebanon to keep the peace. The Israelis are an invasion force that the Lebanese government is trying to get out. That difference in their roles is creating tensions unlike any previous U.S.-Israeli strains.
The latest confrontation began when a Marine observation post atop the library of the Lebanese University spotted unusual movements by the Israeli forces to the south.
All previous attempts by the Israelis to penetrate the lines of the U.S., Italian and French peacekeepers had involved smaller vehicles than the Centurion tanks that came grinding up the Sidon road.
They turned abruptly from the main road and started across the soggy fields toward the U.S. lines, smashing through a fence on the way.
Johnson decided to act alone. Leaving the rest of his men 200 yards behind, he moved in front of the approaching tanks.
'The tanks came through off the Sidon road and came into Marine lines and said they wanted to come through -- that they would come through,' the shy Marine said, his eyes glancing down.
'I told him if he came through, he'd have to kill me first.'
The Israeli tank was now a foot from Johnson. The Israeli lieutenant colonel demanded the American move aside, and his three tanks revved their engines threateningly.
'I informed him that would not be possible and a very dangerous situation was developing,' said the 30-year-old native of Neenah, Wis.
'I just took that step, locked and loaded my pistol in front of his tank and told him again that he could not come there.
'And that's when he moved back and laterally and tried to get his other two tanks to do what he was doing.'
Johnson moved quickly to put an end to the maneuver, climbing up the side of the tank.
'He was down in a turret,' Johnson said. 'I grabbed him with my left hand. I kept my pistol at the ready with my right hand.'
The Marines emphasized that the gun was pointed in the air, not at the Israeli soldier. Johnson, asked what he would have done if the tank proceeded, replied, 'All I can say is, it didn't happen.'
Johnson, his picture now flashed on Lebanese television, has become a local hero: the man who single-handedly held off the Israeli army that crushed opposition last summer and now occupies almost half of Lebanon.
Sounding and acting in the image of the soft-spoken American, Johnson matter-of-factly says, 'I simply stopped them -- that's all.'