NEW YORK --
On Oct. 23, 1983 a suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into the first floor of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The day, 241 service embers died from the blast of the 12,000 tons of TNT.
Fifteen years ago, a few veteran Marines started meeting together in William F. Moore Park, a small green patch in Queens named after a Marine private killed in the Battle of Belleau Wood, in World War One. It was October, few weeks before the Marine Corps birthday and the men started reflecting on the Beirut attacks. Over the years the annual meeting on Oct. 23 became more formal with the donation of a stone memorial and a reading of the names of everyone who was killed in the bombing.
“This park was in terrible condition,” said Joseph Lisa, N.Y. State Supreme Court Justice (ret.) and a member of the Corona Lion’s Club who helped add the memorial to the park. “It’s sacred ground now. It’s one of the safest and best parks in the city,” he said.
Lt. Col. Glenn Sadowski, part of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Military Staff Committee, narrated the evening’s event and spoke about what he learned from the Beirut attack.
As a commander of Marines in Iraq, Sadowski recalled how important defending against vehicle explosives were to their defensive positioning. “We don’t want another Beirut,” he’d tell his Marines.
Sadowski also thanked the father of Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, a Sag Harbor, N.Y., native and a posthumous Navy Cross recipient, for his son’s efforts to prevent a similar attack in Iraq last year.
Haerter was killed when an explosive-laden truck attempting to reach reaching dozens of Marines and Iraq police sleeping in Ramadi, Iraq was disabled and exploded at his machine gun post instead of reaching the rest of the compound.
“They learned the lesson of Beirut,” he told the crowd.
Sergeant Maj. Ralph Abbondanza, who retired after 31 years of service in 1972, was glad to see Marines and supporters gather to remember those who died.
Abbondanza was taken prisoner by Japan, and later survived the Bataan Death March, in 1942. One fourth of the 72,000 Allied service members forced to march 61-miles died along the way in what would later be classified a Japanese War Crime.
“We were the enemy when we came home,” he said. Each POW carried the stigma that, “you gave up,” he said.
It’s with that jaded view of remembering service members that he quips that ceremonies like this are past due, but the Marines are never forgotten.