Construction to begin on a memorial for Beirut peacekeepers killed almost 40 years ago

Reporter: Annette Montgomery
Published: Updated:

A structure designed to symbolize the men and women that paid the ultimate price for the country will be built in Charlotte County.

In October of 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck into the lobby of the building serving as the barracks of the First Battalion Eighth Marines stationed at Beirut International Airport in Lebanon.

The detonation killed 220 marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, making it the deadlist single day for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

On Wednesday, there is a groundbreaking for the Beirut peacekeepers’ tower at the William R. Gaines Memorial Park in Charlotte County.

It’s been 40 years since Michael Gaines lost his big brother, William, in the Beirut bombing.

William R. Gaines

“I have scars from you know, fights that we would have,” Michael said. “I think when you’re young, you don’t always realize or appreciate, you know, the relationships that you have with your sibling. And I think I felt like I took that for granted.”

As he stands in the William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park, named in honor of his brother, it’s the 240 other Americans who lost their lives during a “peacekeeping mission,” Michael is thinking about.

“You have the Beirut wall and, you know, it has the names of all those who died in Beirut. But it doesn’t tell the story, it doesn’t tell how they got there, what happened, while they were there, it doesn’t tell about the combat, the fact that they were, you know, attacked multiple times, over the course of the time they were there. And so I wanted that story told,” Michael said.

It’s a story Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch also believes should be told.

So along with Gaines and others, he’s worked for the last seven years to create the Beirut Peacekeepers Memorial Tower.

“We’re going to memorialize the 241 Americans that lost their life and that bombing, and it was the second largest loss of life for Marines since Iwo Jima. And there were 10,000 Americans that went as peacekeepers,” Deutsch said. “They weren’t there to fight. They were there to just to help keep the airport open and help people have the freedom that so many of us take for granted every day of the week.”

The 45-foot tower will serve as an educational experience and a reminder.

There will be 241 rods for the 241 lives lost and the design and structure of the tower aren’t by chance.

“If you look at the tower, there’s two parts to it that spyglass and habitat. Spyglass is the support that holds the, the platforms that come out. And then habitat is the building that got blown up. And so if you look at the design, it looks like it’s floating in the air, and the bomb blast when it exploded it you know, several survivors have said the building went up in the air, and then it collapsed,” Michael said.

Michael said the architect took the project personally.

“His historical background is from the Middle East. And he didn’t know the story of the Beirut Marines. And so he really did a deep dive and looked into what happened in Beirut and realized that they were there to help, you know, other families and other people, like his family. And so, you know, he put a lot of effort and emphasis into the design,” Michael said.

The result a memorial to honor those 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers who died trying to keep in the Middle East.

Rev. Kevin Bernard Shaw served in Beirut and was there on the day of the bombing.

“We lost 37 people out of my company alone. Out of my Batoon, we lost about 16 and eight of those was mine. That’s just out of my motor Batoon,” Shaw said. “We lost our entire command element in that building.”

The 241 Americans lost their lives when a suicide bomber drove a truck into the building serving as their barracks.

“It shook everything in the tent. I was right across the airport runways. So we jumped up and run out. And we see this big mushroom cloud of smoke. So then that’s our leaders ran up. And I said we need to go up there,” Shaw said.

Shaw and Jeff Mosher say it’s a day they cannot forget.

Not only because they were serving in Beirut but because they survived.

“It is emotional. It’s difficult at the same time because we still have to live our lives,” said Mosher.

As they live, their new mission is to ensure no one forgets the tragedy.

“I actually lost my entire headquarters, my entire command. My CO was captain Haskell. My XO was Lieutenant Summerfield. My first arm was first arm wells; Operation chief was Masson Edwards,” Shaw said.

Mosher said: “I literally feel like it’s our responsibility to share this story.”

Mosher and Shaw are proud the 241 who died will be honored by the memorial tower.

The 45-foot tower resembles the two primary buildings used by the marines in Beirut.

Mosher said the tower is going to rival any monument in D.C.

“In fact, because of the multinational peacekeeping force and the contingencies that were involved, we are going to include the French because they lost 58 paratroopers that same day, just minutes later, they were attacked on the same day. We’re going to include the Italians and the British, and also the story of the Lebanese people,” Mosher said.

The memorial will serves as place to remember and give thanks.

 “I read about all the memorials that’s in different states and I always wished there was one here. So now that there’s one here, I’m sure we’re going to mark the occasion, you know, every Oct. 23,” Shaw said.

The groundbreaking is Wednesday at 10 a.m. The hope is for the tower to be built within the next year.

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