Portsmouth remembers fallen Beirut Marines

Portsmouth Beirut Memorial benediction
Navy Chaplain Manuel Biadog delivers benediction at the Portsmouth Beirut Memorial.

In a moving hour-long ceremony this morning, Portsmouth marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut and remembered the 9 Rhode Islanders among the 241 service members killed. Almost 100 people packed the Portsmouth Historical Society, joined by guest speakers and a contingent of Marines for the wreath-laying ceremony.

"People think that the war on terror started on 9/11," said USMC Colonel William F. Mullen III, "But it was actually much earlier, with the Iranians taking our Embassy in 1979, and the bombing of our Embassy in Beirut [in April, 1983] and [the barracks] that October. They were the first casualties in a very long war with an implacable enemy. The peacekeepers' valor and sacrifice will never be forgotten. They left us a legacy second to none, and our toughest job will be to live up to their legacy."

"Marines are always on the front line — that's what makes them Marines," said guest speaker Representative Patrick Kennedy. "Tragically, on that day, we didn't do enough to make sure they were protected." He noted that Rhode Island, the smallest state, bore a heavy toll of casualties in the attack, and expressed concern that the Lebanon deployment had no national memorial.

Zdanuk and Kennedy
Portsmouth memorial founder Shirley Zdanuk and Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

Portsmouth resident Shirley Zdanuk, who has been instrumental in maintaining the memorial at the historical society, spoke about the history of the yearly remembrance, going back to a Garden Club event on Memorial Day in 1984 that drew almost 1,000 people. She promised, "There will always be ceremonies here on this date." Zdanuk asked Rep. Kennedy for his help in getting national recognition. "After the Twin Towers, there was a stamp put out," she said, but the Post Office has failed to respond to calls to remember Beirut.

Zdanuk and Kennedy talked briefly after the ceremony, and he offered his support. "I am going to work on a proper acknowledgment," Kennedy told reporters, promising to take up the issue with the Post Office and other Federal agencies. "It is long overdue," he said, "For those who perished, we need to work to be sure this is done."

Zdanuk told reporters she appreciated Kennedy's support and promised to hold him to it. She credited the "people of Portsmouth and the Island" for all the work they have done to keep the memory alive, and expressed sadness that, "If you ask what happened on 9/11, everybody knows, but few people know if you ask what happened on October 23."

In memoriam:
Sergeant Timothy Giblin
Corporal Rick R. Crudale
Corporal Edward S. Iacovino Jr.
Corporal David C. Massa
Corporal Thomas A. Shipp
Corporal James Silvia
Corporal Edward Soares Jr.
Corporal Stephen Spencer
Lance Corporal Thomas Julan

More photos from the event posted on Flickr.

Update: ProJo has a video.