Remarks by Lt. Col. Jonathan Kenney, USMC
Eighteenth century British poet William Blake once wrote, "The most sublime act. is to set another before you. " I think it's a beautiful quote. If you really think about it because it reflects the high moral value and the virtue that is required of an individual to sacrifice on behalf of somebody else.
What I find interesting about that quote is also that there's no connection made between those that are referenced in the quote. It was not a familial reference. There's not a there's not a parent child connection there's not a husband and wife. That this sacrifice can be can occur between unknowns. And that's a really powerful idea because in order to do that, in order to be the one to be able to make that sacrifice, tou have to have tremendous character.
While William Blake penned this line more than 100 years ago, he could described the sacrifice made 35 years go by the Marines from Rhode Island. With conflict raging in Lebanon, the Marines and Sailors of First Battalion Eighth Marines deployed deployed as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. There were French, British, and Italians that they deployed alongside and their role. Their mission was to protect. To protect the people and provide a fragile peace. To protect the citizens of Lebanon who were enduring a horrific civil war.
But as we know, tragically on the 23rd of October 1983 at the hands of the radical jihadist, our nation lost 241 service members, and among those 220 Marines. 18 sailors, and three soldiers. And of those 220 Marines as we know, nine of those were sons of Rhode Island.
Before the bombing occurred on that quiet Sunday morning. The sun rose early. Casting its rays upon the Beirut International Airport Where the First Battalion Eighth Marines headquarters building was located. It was a rectangular four story structure that was elevated off a series of columns that had previously served as Lebanese Aviation Administration building. Due to the conflict that is ongoing they displaced from that location.
And 350 out of the 1000 Marines from One-Eight occupied that structure. They fortified it, had a perimiter established, concertina wire, and sandbags in the windows to protect themselves As is common on Sunday mornings, even when the deployed commanders provide Marines some flexibility. And so Sunday mornings typically you get a little time for either get a haircut or do the laundry. These are the Marines that are not on post, not the ones that are providing that security or other functions for the battalion. So, it may seem like any other day. But in a combat zone, anything can happen any time.
And little did they know at the direction and fuding of Iran, the terrorist group Hezbollah planned a series of attacks against coalition forces that day. So as the Marines began their day, at 6:22 am there was a lone truck that circled out front of the building and sped and broke through the perimeter and drove right into the lobby of the building. Shortly thereafter detonated the paylload that it contained. And that was the equivalent of approximately 21,000 pounds of TNT. As you already heard it was the largest non-nuclear explosion that had occurred since World War 2. So it created immense carnage. The building had been reduced to rubble. And we had 241 souls that were taken.
Later that morning, shortly thereafter, that second attack occurred against the French where 58 French paratroopers were also killed. That was a total of 299 of our coalition forces that were taken that one day. It is the single deadliest day that the U.S. experienced since Pearl Harbor. It was only superseded by the jihadist attack that occurred on 9/11.
It represented the first attack of what would become the global war on terror and serve as the biggest loss that the Marine Corps suffered since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. And sadly for the state of Rhode Island you suffered the largest proportion of any state of the Union on that day.
Today, the epitaph "They Came In Peace" is etched in a memorial memorial at the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Those same four words are also etched at a memorial in Camp Lejeune North Carolina. And both honor the Marines, sailors, and soldiers that passed that day.
When I was stationed in Camp Lejeune North Carolina, 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 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 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.
So together we mourn the loss of their Rhode Island. Heroes Sergeant Timothy Giblinn. Corporal Richard Crudale. Corporal Edward Iacovino Corporal David Massa. Corporal Thomas Shipp, Corporal Edward Soares Jr. Corporal James Sylvia and his brother in law Corpral Steven Spencer. And of course, Lance Corporal Thomas Julian.
Duty called hese these Marines and they responded and they gave their last full measure. Now my participation today is not the first time that I've interacted or been closely connected to Rhode Island Marines. Nor to One-Eight. From 2008 to 2009, I served in One-Eight. I was a company commander for Bravo Company where I commanded 180 marines and sailors. I have that lieage, I carry that lineage of the Beirut Battalion proudly. In 2010.
I had since left that unit went to another battlion, Third of Ninety-Six Marines. The reason why I mentioned that is because at that deployment when I traveled to deployed to Afghanistan and during that time one of the Marines one of the several Marines we had that was killed in action was a Marine by the name of Private First Class Kyle Coutu. Kyle was from Pawtucket. So I had the opportunity to travel to Providence to help memorialize him in the Garden of Heroes at the State House in Providence.
That experience meant a great deal to me because I was thoroughly impressed with how much support this community that really existed for that one Marine and his family all the way from federal level, state level, local level, and just the community in general. It was extraordinarily impressive.
And I volunteered for this today because obviously I have a connection to One-Eight, and obviously I'm a Marine, but I knew there was going to be a special opportunity that I can share with you to pay tribute to the Rhode Island Nine. So whether we will remember the loss of Marines from recent recent conflicts or from 35 years ago. It's just a reminder that freedom comes at a heavy cost. What I've grown to respect Rhode island is hat its sons always answer the call because they are men of character.
Many of you may have heard the motto, "If not me, then who." If not me, then who. It's a simple but profound question, and it comes from First Lieutenant Travis Manion. Travis was a was a lieutennt, a Marine lieutenant who was killed in action in Iraq in 2007. His question I think illustrates not only the importance of service, leadership, and courage, and how important those are in today's society, but it also reflects how the Rhode Island lived their lives.
Somebody has to perform that hard duty of defending this country. And not only defending it but providing hope. Providing hope for those who are less fortunate than us. And these nine young men tend, ten if you count Kyle, posessed the character to do that.
They were not forced to serve. They volunteered. They volunteered and swore an oath to the Constitution to support it to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. So when we gather for these solemn occasions, they remind us of the sacrifices and the character that these Marines hold. But they also remind us that it's our duty.
We have a responsibility to honor those fallen heroes. And it should also serve to strengthen our resolve. To live by the example set by these Marines. Service. Leadership. Courage. The courage to defend our freedoms. The leadership to lead the world by serving as a beacon of light for others to follow. And the service to others. And all these, all these, really combine to show that we should live a life of strong moral character just like they did. They will forever a part of a brotherhod. Forever. And that is a brotherhood that doesn't feel self-pity but is willing to serve as the nation's guardians.
Our nation sends these traitors men young men and women of character, to this day, to foreign lands to prevent the wolf from coming to our doorstep. So we must be grateful that we live amongst these giants, past, present and future. But gain comfort knowing that these Marines, the Rhode Island Nine, are looking down upon us today. At this very moment, watching over every one of you. And they're probably smiling. They do that because they continue to be the guardians. For all of us. Because that's what Marines do, and they are part of that brotherhood.
So in closing, if you've ever heard the Marines Hymn. 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 your support as you continue to struggle. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.