Bombing in Lebanon

Published: 1983
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President Ronald Reagan talks with Vice President George Bush in the White House residence after Bush returned from Beirut, Lebanon, where he viewed the bombing of the Marine compound. UPI Photo/John Full/The White House)

Ed Karrens: 1983 was a year of continued turmoil in the Middle East, with Lebanon the scene of murderous bombing attacks that took the lives of many Americans.

In the Lebanon of 1983, car bombings were so frequent, they became almost commonplace. But on Monday, April the 18th, an act of violence was committed that shocked and appalled even those who had come to accept violence and death as a way of life in that strife-torn nation.

It was the start of a workweek, and offices at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut were filled with employees. Suddenly, the sounds of typewriters and conversation were shattered by a huge explosion that reduced the building to rubble and killed 63 people, 17 of them American.

UPI's Jack Redden arrived at the scene shortly after the blast …

Jack Redden: "White smoke is billowing up, and the flames now cover the main floor of the building, although they probably won't spread through the concrete. French paratroopers have joined the Lebanese Army in trying to clear the rubble get at the bodies. The place is congested, and it's hard for ambulances to get in to carry away the dead and injured. There's no windows left in the building and one side here is badly shattered. One wall in the back is blown open.

"This is Jack Redden in Beirut."

Ed Karrens: Among the Americans who died in the Embassy bombing was a U.S. Marine guard. In the months to follow, other Marines would die in Lebanon, victims of sniper attacks on the Marine base at the Beirut Airport.

As Marine casualties mounted, some members of Congress pressed for pulling the Americans out of Lebanon before more of them died; but even the staunchest advocate of a Marine pullout could hardly have envisioned the savage and insane act that would killed and maim hundreds of Marines on a quiet morning in October.

It took place at the headquarters of the 8th Marine Battalion on the edge of the Beirut Airport. It was a Sunday morning, and most of the troops were still in their cots, some sleeping, others lying away just enjoying the luxury of not having to fall out to reveille. That peaceful scene changed in a matter of moments. Marine Major Robert Jordan describes what happened …

Major Robert Jordan: "A large truck filled with explosives crashed through the southern gate of the BLT and drove into the lobby of the former Aviation Safety Building the Marines call the Beirut Hilton and detonated."

Ed Karrens: The devastation was incredible, but more incredible and tragic was the loss of life. As shaken and grief-stricken Marines carefully searched the debris for their comrades, the death toll kept rising, the final appalling total 240 dead, more than 75 wounded.

Within moments of the attack on the Marines, a similar suicide bombing took place at the building housing French soldiers, killing 58 of the paratroopers.

Expressions of condolence and outrage poured in from all over the world. Again, there were calls to pull the peacekeepers out of Lebanon; but both the United States and France reaffirmed their commitment to remain …

Jenny Cossola: As the year drew to a close, still more Marines died in Beirut, and U.S. warplanes hit Syrian anti-aircraft positions in Lebanon. Two American jets were shot down in that action, the first to be lost in combat since Vietnam.

In Israel, 1983 was a time of crisis, a year in which Prime Minister Menachem Begin submitted his resignation and slipped into seclusion.

UPI's Jeffrey Heller has more …

Jeffrey Heller: "Close associates said Begin was depressed over the death of his wife and the drawn-out war in Lebanon. Despite a much-haled troop withdrawal, the court Israeli soldiers stayed in Lebanon, deployed along a new line in the south waiting for the Syrian Army to pull out. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers continued to die in roadside explosions and in suicide bombing. On the bright side, relations with Washington improved, partly due to the Marine Headquarters bombing. That tragedy gave Israel and the United States a common adversary, Syria, and President Reagan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed on closer strategic cooperation.

"Jeffrey Heller, Tel Aviv."