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Reflections

This Memorial Day I wanted to take time and…

This Memorial Day I wanted to take time and acknowledge what it means to me, and why. Pictured is a young, 19 y/o Dedoceo Habi (formerly Cpl. Wayne. E. McCoy) when I was part of a detachment of Marines stationed onboard the USS Iwo Jima in 1983. On the morning of 23 October, we lost 241 Brothers to a terrorist bombing attack in Beirut, Lebanon. We were there as part of a Multinational Peacekeeping Force and our objective was to help the people of Beirut build up their military so they could support themselves. The pride, pain, hurt, moment, memories, and imagery are seared into my mind and will always be part of me.

People who have not served during such hardship can never comprehend what such a thing can do to a person – especially young headstrong Marines who haven’t a clue what the realities of combat are and who are still developing into Men (and Women). In all the Hollywood movies I’ve seen nothing has been able to touch on the reality, horror, intense anger, heroism, and humanity we Marines shared on that day. While some films have come close, nothing I’ve seen has replicated the complications, experiences, sounds, emotions, or hardships we survived.

This year will mark the 35th year since that event and it still seems to have happened just yesterday for me. Many of the Brothers who were there are dealing with PTSD, Mood Disorders, Depression, Nightmares, “Militancy”, and other hardships because of what we experienced. We go through life feeling no one understands — in fact, you would have to of been there to understand — and wondering whatever happened to this Brother or that Brother. In those days we were not encouraged to stay connected after we left the Marine Corps.

We do not talk about the experience because even though people want to understand and demonstrate compassion, they often seem to say the wrong thing, which can make for a frustrating conversation, and what we seek is not so much compassion as it is the connection to a Brotherhood — and to past friendships — that cannot be made.

Memorial Day means (to me) that I take time to consider the lives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It means I pay homage to their lives and losses. It means I stop and check myself to evaluate if I’ve honored their lives in my interaction with others.

It is a reminder to me of the true price of freedom and the true price of peace. It forces me to stop thinking about what “I think” is important and to genuinely see what’s important – Life, Peace, Freedom.

We were a mix of ideologies, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and origins, and we operated – and wore the Green that defined us – as US Marines. We did not allow our myriad different views to separate us… instead, we all understood we were Americans and we proved our commitment to this great Country, by signing the line and committing to our tasks as Marines.

I take this day as bittersweet. I’m proud of what I have done in the name of Peace, and with so many great Marines. I’m proud to have been able to help my fallen Brothers in their time of need. I’m proud to have served American in the capacity of a Marine. I’m also saddened that we lost so many. I’m saddened because I feel I did not do enough. The thoughts and feelings associated with the truth continue to impact me.

Ever searching, we keep moving forward.

Semper Fidelis.

— Dedoceo Habi

Recollection, Part 1

On 23 October 1983 I was a 19-year-old PNSN stationed aboard the Iwo. My regular watch station in addition to my primary duties as a Personnelman in the personnel office was to stand watch on the Bridge at the Bridge Status Board. This watch station kept track of all ships, airplanes and the occasional Soviet submarine entering and leaving our theater of operation and is manned 24/7. As a  Bridge Status Board plotter, I was in constant contact via sound powered phone with C.I.C. (combat information center) as well as Port and Starboard lookouts and the Forecastle and Fantail lookouts and reported all updates and changes as they occurred to the Bridge Duty Officer who had the “Con” or control of the Bridge. On the morning of the bombing, which was a Sunday and the ship was under holiday routine (meaning only essential stations onboard were manned) I was scheduled for my normal watch rotation on the bridge for the 0800-1200 watch. On the USS Iwo Jima, LPH-2 we actually relieved the watch 15 minutes prior to the actual watch time which in this case meant I would relieve the current watch at 0745 am. So I arrived on the Bridge at approximately 0735 to be updated by the current watch as to the conditions noted on the Board. In this instance, I relieved PN3 Craig Major, a fellow PN who I worked with in the personnel office. During this time I was informed of the bombing that had occurred at approximately 0625 at the Marine Barracks. We were less than a nautical mile offshore and the smoke from the bomb site was easily visible even without binoculars from the Bridge. The Bridge Status Board in addition to its normal tracking of ships and planes in the area was also keeping a running total of WIA (wounded in action), MIA (missing), and KIA (killed) in action. I don’t remember the exact numbers at the time I took over the Status Board but the number of MIA was in the upper 900s, WIA was in the low 30s and KIA was in the low teens. Upon relieving PN3 Craig, the Captain came to the Bridge and took over the  “Con” or control of the Bridge Watch. The Captain ordered me to relay all updates as they were received from CIC to him directly and immediately, and for about the next hour with almost constant and alarming increases in all categories, I relayed the information I received as ordered. During this time Holiday routine was suspended and the Air Department ordered to the flight deck. At about 0845 the Captain ordered General Quarters for all crew and I was relieved by PN1 McAdden, as this was not my General Quarters station. Upon being relieved I went to my GQ station at Repair Locker 7, where I was the GQ events plotter which entailed plotting the various damage control issues on exploded diagrams of the ships various decks as well as monitoring the Captains Battle Circuit, which allowed me to keep up with the totals of MIA WIA AND KIA which rose at an alarming rate. The only good news during this time was the MIA number was dropping because of better accounting by the Marines ashore via muster reports. At about 1100 we secured from QG and set Condition Zebra, maintaining watertight integrity and manning the ships defense weapon stations which include the 50 Cal. machine guns posted throughout the Port and Starboard side of the ship.

Being assigned to X Division, the Executive Officer (second in command to the Captain) was my division officer. We were ordered to gather in the personnel office for an intelligence briefing at which time the XO asked for volunteers to go ashore to help with rescue and relief operations. I volunteered and was accepted to go. I was told to report to the ships’ armory to be issued a flak jacket and helmet and then to report to the Pilot Ready Room for assignment to a helicopter to take myself and other volunteers ashore.  After learning my helicopter would not depart until 1300, I briefly visited the hangar bay which was rapidly filling with wounded Marines being triaged by the ships medical teams. I went to the flight deck to board a CH46 Sea Knight helicopter and was happy to see some of the Air Department guys I knew assigned to my helo. Among them were AN John Bulpin, a blue shirt at the time and ABH2 Augustus. They along with the Marine crew chief escorted me aboard the helo with the rest of the volunteers from my division and we took off for the Beach Master Unit at Beirut International Airport. Upon landing, we were taken to a staging area where we boarded an APC type vehicle for the drive to the site. Upon arriving, the sight of the building and the vast number of Marines and Sailors involved was overwhelming as well as the obvious number of dead in body bags being held under a tent for transport back to the ships. I reported to a Marine officer who asked me my MOS or rating. I informed him I was a personnelman, and he assigned me initially to a group of Marines and Sailors to see if the admin section of the building (which had not collapsed) was accessible and to retrieve any classified documents (pay and personnel records, duty and watch rosters, perimeter and post diagrams, etc) and if not recoverable to report back to him. We went to the building and found that the way to those offices blocked and went back and reported the same. I was than assigned to a recovery crew where for the next 16 hours or so I helped move debris and recover 5 Marines. As time went on Rigor Mortis was setting in and the bodies were becoming more difficult to put into body bags. At one point while digging out one of the Marines we thought we saw his foot move and that he may still be alive.  Unfortunately, a case of grenades was broken open and it looked like one of the pins was gone and the only thing keeping it from going off was the spoon appeared stuck to the side of the crate. We were ordered back until EOD could make it safe. It seemed to take forever and we thought this Marine was still alive so myself and one of the other guys off the Iwo, PHAN Maynard, picked up the crate and walked it down the rubble to a safe distance and set it down. Unfortunately, we were mistaken and the Marine was not alive.  We never did learn the status of that case of grenades. All throughout the first day and night, there were occasional shouts of “incoming” and “duck and cover” as we experienced intermittent small arms and sniper fire. At about 0800 24 October I was ordered back to the ship. Upon landing on the Iwo I reported back to the XO and requested to go back ashore after I showered and ate. The XO approved but also required I get at least 4 hours sleep before returning. After doing so I again boarded a CH46 about 1500 24 October and repeated the trip back to the site where I spent another 18 hours digging through the rubble, retrieving Marines, and seeking cover from the occasional pot shot. I then went back to the Iwo about 0900 October 25 and repeated the shower/eat/sleep routine and returned for a third trip to the site. This time I was looking for an HM1 Ronald Bates, who was attached to the Marines at the barracks as the POIC of the medical team. I had become very friendly with HM1 Bates, even though he far outranked me, as he was constantly in the personnel office over the course of that summer making sure his men had all their qualifications updated in their service records because they needed this for advancement. Late in the morning of 26 October, around 0430 I along with PN3 Scott Keithline and others, found HM1 Bates body. At that point, I had enough. I went to a tent set up for the guys working the rubble where there were cots and food available. I just sat there waiting for the next vehicle to Beirut International and returned to the Iwo about 0700 26 October. During the course of those three days, I saw bodies in horrific condition due to crushing injuries. Also part of the barracks was on fire where it had collapsed, and the smell of burning flesh was overwhelming. It is a smell you will never forget.  These are the sights, smells, and sounds that haunt me in my dreams on occasion to this day. In my minds’ eye, I picture those days so vividly and they – along with the sounds and smells over those three days – are as real to me today as they were then.  Everything here is easily verifiable through either my service record (my evaluations mention my time ashore) as well as by other service members I have named here. It is as true and accurate to the best of my recollection as it can be.

Semper Fi, and  Fair Winds and Following Seas

— Gary Bogie

So here’s what I remember…

I was the COG under Steve Russell on the 4 to 8 shift. If you remember the guard duty was typically a two-week stint that changed on Mondays. I was relieved as COG on Friday by L/Cpl Eric Sturghill who was also in 81’s. There was to be a training mission with the French, Italian, and British on that following Monday but it was widely known to be canceled due to the grenade attack on a convoy of ours up by the University (I think) or somewhere outside our airport perimeter. (Jeff Hamman told of it in his timeline blurbs) I think it happened on the Monday or Tuesday before.  Anyway, As I feel, I was supposed to be there on Sunday morning out front in that COG shack….and as you know my shift was the 4 to 8 shift. It was only that miscommunication or lack thereof, that the training mission being canceled resulted in our replacement 81 replacements for guard relieved us on Friday.

I can’t swear to the exact timing of the events but it will make sense as to the point M/Sgt Edwards, with Wpns Co — as salty as they cam (a Korean and Vietnam War Marine) — pointed out to me in a conversation from the second or third story that we had minimal defenses for the BLT because of our mission. He points to the wire, the iron fence, gate, and knee wall and then to the two 10 or 12-foot iron concrete-filled pipes, (They were maybe 16″ diameter) Anyway it kinda haunts my memory that he said “If they wanted to, they could…” (etc.) and this is exactly how it happened… and he mentioned the importance of how the gate being shut and the pipes positioning was a critical defense against such an attack.

Early in the week, starting maybe Monday or even Sunday each time I formed my guard at 3:45 pm I found the pipes moved from the critical position. I learned it came from a higher ranking Lebanese officer asking that they be moved for supply trucks to move in that area. Each time I found them like that I moved them back to line up with the iron gate. This happened every single time up until I was relieved… So, I may have had my guys move them 5 different times, each time complaining to the other COGs that we need them and referring what M/Sgt Edwards pointed out to me.

Then, maybe like Tuesday or Wed, the gate was RPG’d and blown up. The two halves of the gate was dragged to the side, leaving only the wire and the pipe as a deterrent or defense for a vehicular attack. That same part of the week we also had that unexploded arty round actually hit the building. The last thing that haunts me is that either Wednesday or Thursday during the afternoon 4/8 shift I look out at post 6 and 7 (the machine gun 2 man posts out in the parking lot) and see a large van like a UPS size box truck out by the wire line. I walk out and see two young girls dressed in short shorts and fairly revealing shirts walking along the fence line and my guys kind of chatting them up but at the same time knowing it’s wrong and asking them to leave. There was a young man driving the vehicle parallel to the fence about 20 feet away. When I arrived I motion and gave a forcible order for them to leave but they kept walking, uneasy now rather than flirty…  After 10 seconds of them not responding to my command I yelled like a DI at PI and they got in the van and left. My concern was being caught or seen by Cpt Haskell or someone else and getting chewed out…

In retrospect I know these two scantily clad girls (in a Muslim country, right? ) were looking to see if our perimeter wire was mined… claymores or whatever.

So, you can see what I’m getting at: I honestly believe that the Lebanese officer had some part in the attack by moving the concrete-filled pipes.

They had someone on the inside.

Then the precision attack of the gate allowing for a through path to our BLT ….and lastly the two girls confirming we only had un-anchored and un-mined wire on our perimeter. I’ve always wondered if my moving those pipes back each afternoon stopped them from bombing us earlier when the sun rose and they saw them in the way. I also made a strong point to Sturghill about what was happening with the pipes and to not allow this Leb officer to weaken the defensive barrier. That too haunts and pains me very deeply.

It’s obvious it was planned but when I tried to make it known there was a Lebanese officer who did this it was squashed and I was told to keep it to myself. I wish I could remember who but we lost all of our officers and my remaining LT was a not hearing it… So, I just dropped it.

The pain I personally carry is that I sensed it but I failed to see the correlation of these events until after the bombing… almost feeling partly to blame during some of my darker days…fuck, I’m getting worked up now!

Well, that’s about it. It may not actually be the best thing to share with all our brothers or maybe it is…. it’s just the thing I’ve had to deal with personally …all which adds to my survivors’ guilt.  Semper Fi

— Ross Morrison

It Was A Bad Experiment…

I can’t remember how the events unfolded one day after the other. Similarly, remembering anything in the up, down hand-me-down world of Top Secret and Secret Clearances can be a stretch. Sorry, this won’t hurt anyone’s feeling… it was 35 years ago. Day-to-day functions of staying alive with a job that encompasses passing the word was a hard way to stay unnoticed. The opposition, knowing all as well with their intelligence machine, brought us to the point of putting us into harms way.

We had to do it.

We were in the Marines.

The Few. The Proud.

So close to the enemy that we slept right next door to them. We kept hyper-alert 24 hours a day. Our open-air radios on a different frequency every day with them listening in on the same frequency.

So close at times we were within arms reach, their backup looming in the distance and fully unknown to us.

But we had to avoid anything that they could figure to their advantage, and kill us. That wasn’t my job but I had to do it – I wanted life.

I was a U.S.M.C. Field Radio Operator and a trained rifleman, and I felt I knew everything.

A Headquarters and Support Field Radio Operator, I was right in the middle of the Infantry and Headquarters. The Infantry never got out much. Headquarters never got out much even more…But I got out all the time. I was always the new guy wherever I went carrying my radio, and/or manila envelope of Top Secret messages on my person to be delivered discretely. Me being a priority to any Marines knowing. Then somewhat frowned upon special to whoever is stuck with me not knowing. I left our compound perimeter (wire) all the time. I left their wire all the time that tall lanky out front crazy radio operator, rifleman, messenger, Marine. The bad experiment unfolding the more that I was noticed, and the oppositions, curiosity increased.

Nobody knew anything and their first thought was that the Radio Operator did. My biggest lesson in staying alive came from within me. In all reality, I didn’t know anything but the latest word.

Radio Ops was my job and nobody else’s… My best and worst friend, yet nobody was allowed to know me. I maintained that composure in light of whatever came over the radio and honestly had to read the Marines around me. Honestly conveying my knowledge of my job and relevant information was the most important for all. You don’t play games in the Combat Zone, and by the time that I got done, they learned to like or respect me. Dead serious, and they didn’t even know if I didn’t know. That was my composure.

Other Field Radio Operators had their individuality too. If you put us together, we all knew each other and each others’ jobs – unless we got lost in how others reacted to us – (everybody needs a radio and a radio operator). Some of my worst times was relaying that I wasn’t in their Company yet they had to take it as well as me.

I wasn’t that other radio operator, and Marines are not individuals.

— John Skrlin