BEIRUT, Lebanon, Oct. 23, 1983 (UPI) - The sabbath, normally a time of solitude for the U.S. Marines in Beirut, became a time for carnage Sunday -- the most shocking and deadly in 14 months of peacekeeping duty.
Terrorists using speeding trucks packed with explosives blew up Marine headquarters and a French peacekeeping post at Beirut Airport, hurling slabs of concrete, metal and glass across the compounds. Both buildings were reduced to rubble.
Outside the Marines' post, letters from home, American newspapers, a rock casette ''Hooligans'' by The Who, a paperback novel titled ''Deathwind of Vedun,'' snapshots of a Marine weightlifter were littered for hundreds of yards.
''I have not seen carnage like this since Vietnam,'' said Maj. Robert Jordan, blood and mud smeared over his arms and face.
''Glass imploded around the area. Doors were blown off their hinges,'' said Jordan, who was sleeping in a building 200 yards away.
Gasoline seeped through the mounds of concrete and twisted steel, erupting into fires that threatened to ignite unexploded ammunition buried beneath, as Marines pulled away rubble.
Hundreds of Marines had minor injuries, cut by flying shards of glass or boulders, but they shrugged them off as they awaited word of the dead and seriously wounded trapped in the rubble.
''We saw smoke rising out of the building. It was devastation, bodies everywhere, people calling for help,'' said Gunnery Sgt. Herman Lange, 35, of San Diego, a Vietnam veteran who was deeply cut in the leg.
''It was obviously a terroristic attack. There is no defense against that kind of thing.''
Just before dawn, a sentry and the sergeant of the guard saw a blue Mercedes truck racing toward them across the parking lot of the Beirut international airport at top speed.
The sergeant of the guard quickly radioed to the command center that a truck was heading straight for the four-story headquarters of the Marine Landing Team Battalion, the center for combat, logistics and communications.
The sentry fired five shots but the truck rammed through two barricades and swerved around another sentry who leaped in front of the vehicle.
''It was a Sunday morning. We normally sleep in on Sunday mornings,'' said Jordan. ''There were some people, such as cooks and such who were getting ready for the morning meal. Others were coming off watch. The majority were sleeping.''
Staff Sgt. Randy Gaddo, 30, Stratford, Wis., a Marine photographer, said the bomb exploded just as he was about to go to the battalion headquarters to develop some film for the Marine newspaper ''Leatherneck.''
''It knocked me over,'' he said. ''First I thought it was incoming (artillery shells).''
The 1,600 Marines are part of a four-nation peacekeeping force sent to Beirut in September 1982 to replace Israeli troops who seized the city during their invasion of Lebanon last year.
The Marines have been drawn deeper into a fierce civil war between the Lebanese government and Syrian-backed Moslem militias since Israeli troops pulled back from the mountains east of the capital to safer positions in southern Lebanon.
Before Sunday, seven U.S. soldiers had been killed and 61 wounded in artillery and sniper attacks.
The Marines and the U.S. Navy warship have fired heavy guns on at least 11 occasions in retaliation against attacks on the peacekeepers or in support of the embattled Lebanese army.
Col. Timothy Geraghty, commander of the Marines in Lebanon, said the attack will not alter the mission of the Marines to stay in Lebanon in support of the Lebanese army.
''This kind of thing just hardens our resolve,'' he said.