This morning, about 100 family members, civic leaders, veterans, and residents gathered at the Portsmouth Historical Society for the Beirut Memorial ceremony, honoring the nine Marines killed in the barracks bombing 35 years ago. A speaking program was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the stone memorial on the grounds of the Historical Society.
Sen. Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. David Cicilline all spoke, and RI Office of Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn read a proclamation from Gov. Gina Raimondo. State Senators Felag and Seveney, and Reps. Mendonca and Azzinaro were in attendance, as was Town Council member Linda Ujifusa and school committee members Terri Cortvriend and Andrew Kelly.
The speakers remembered the nine fallen Rhode Island Marines: Sgt. Timothy Giblin (Providence), Cpl. Rick Crudale (West Warwick), Cpl. David Mass (Warren), Cpl. Thomas Shipp (Woonsocket), Cpl. Edward Shares, Jr. (Tiverton), Cpl. James Silvia (Middletown), Cpl. Stephen Spencer (Portsmouth), and Lance Cpl. Thomas Julian (Portsmouth) and the other 232 Marines and sailors lost in the terrorist attack during the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
"They gave their last full measure of devotion in defense of others, in defense of our nation," said Sen. Reed. "Let us rededicate ourselves to their mission of selfless service and being part of something greater than ourselves."
"We come together every year," said Sen. Whitehouse, "To commemorate these lives and the tradition of service that these nine Rhode Islanders and the United States Marine Corps represent."
Said Rep. Cicilline, "As a nation we must pledge to support the families of those who lost that day as well as the veterans of all of our country's wars. Those who risk everything for our country deserve the thanks and support of a grateful nation."
The morning's main speaker, USMC Lt. Col. Jonathan Kenney, delivered an impassioned remembrance that drew on poetry, his time serving in the same battalion, and the memorial to the fallen at Camp Lejeune. "When I was stationed in Camp Lejeune North Carolina," said Kenney, "Every day I drove along Highway 24 to and from work. And I would pass the Bradford Pear trees that line the median of the Freedom Highway. And each of those trees were planted to represent every life that was taken on the 23rd of October. As I pass each one of those trees, it's hard, not to see in every one of those, the extent of loss that was suffered on that fateful day. Every tree represented a Marine with a family. With a mother. With a father. With a girlfriend, with a fiancee, with a wife, brothers sisters. They each had different ambitions. Each of those Marines. But they served with a common purpose and tragically, we lost them in the blink of an eye."
A full transcript of his remarks is here, but this was his powerful summation.
"If you've ever heard the Marines Hymn," said Kenney, "You'll know that the last line says,"When the Army and the Navy look on Heaven's scenes/They will find the streets are guarded/ By United States Marines." I would submit and we know, we're confident here in this room, that while Marines may be guarding those heavenly streets, it's the Rhode Island Nine who are standing in front of those heavenly formations looking out for us. And so it's important again that we respect the sacrifices they made and be grateful. May God bless each one of those fallen heroes. May God bless the families, each one of you still suffering with their loss. We offer you our support as you continue to struggle. And may God bless the United States of America."