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Beirut Attack Recalled 20 Years Later

October 24, 2003|From Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — As a hushed crowd milled around him Thursday, Jeff Nashton's mind went back to a morning in Beirut 20 years earlier.

He was a Marine lance corporal assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. The day began with a horrific jolt: "Just a big red flash and darkness."

Nashton was lucky -- he survived a terrorist truck bomb that killed 241 Marine, Navy and Army service members.

On the 20th anniversary of the attack, Nashton, 44, of Rome, N.Y., joined hundreds of survivors, relatives and other veterans and friends to honor the victims and other U.S. service members who died in peacekeeping efforts in Beirut in the 1980s.

Anniversary services have been held annually at Camp Lejeune since 1986, when the Beirut Memorial was dedicated at the base gates.

"It's a very sacred day," said Danny Wheeler, a Navy chaplain who was trapped for 5 1/2 hours in the barracks' rubble. "These young men, they took me in, and I was honored to be their chaplain."

At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recalled being appointed as then-President Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East in the wake of the Beirut bombing.

Rumsfeld said the experience helped convince him that the best defense against terrorism is a good offense.

"The only way to defeat terrorists is to take the war to them, to go after them where they are, where they live, where they plan, where they hide, go after their finances, go after the people who harbor and assist them," Rumsfeld said.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, a crowd of about 500 people gathered at the Camp Lejeune memorial to light candles and listen as veterans and family members read the names of victims.

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