U.S. Embassy in Beirut Tragedy: 25 Years Later

Posted by Richard Michaels
April 18, 2008

Richard Michaels serves as the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.Policy Podcast Video: Remembering Beirut Embassy Tragedy

On a sunny Monday afternoon in 1983, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was a hive of activity: employees conducted meetings, visa applicants awaited their interviews and other American and Lebanese staff ate their lunch in the cafeteria. At 12:55pm, a truck bomb indelibly changed these people’s lives, detonating on the embassy’s doorstop, killing 52 innocent embassy employees and other passers-by. As a child growing up in Wisconsin, I remember the bombing, watching the grim footage on the evening news. Life at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut has changed since that tragic April day. The embassy itself moved from a seaside location in the heart of Beirut to a heavily fortified compound to the north of the city. American employees used to live in private residences throughout Beirut, enjoying freedom of movement. Now, my colleagues and I only leave the compound, where we live and work, escorted by bodyguards, even when going to the supermarket. But one thing that remains the same is the devotion of our local staff, especially the eight who survived the bombing, and a subsequent attack in 1984, and still work with us today.

Today’s somber event, under a sunny Friday sky, commemorated the 1983 and 1984 embassy bombings in addition to the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks. Chargé d’Affaires Sison opened the ceremony, telling the audience of victims’ families, survivors and current embassy employees where she was when she learned of the tragedy: working as a first-tour officer at our embassy in Haiti. Visiting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Welch, then-Lebanon desk officer, recounted the early morning phone call he received informing him of the breaking news, and guest Marine Corps Colonel Valore described the long and painful recuperation his brother endured after being blown out of a window during the Marine barracks explosion.

A local university choir formed a semi-circle around the "They Came in Peace" memorial, listing the names of all American and Lebanese employees killed in Lebanon since 1976, singing emotionally evocative hymns in Arabic and English. We watched the laying of several wreaths and an elderly woman who slowly approached the memorial, overcome by her grief, to touch her daughter’s name engraved in the granite wall. My colleagues and I – men and women, American and Lebanese alike – were moved by the sight. I felt immense pride to know that I am following in the footsteps of my Foreign Service predecessors who perished that day. I was reminded how fortunate I am to work side-by-side with Lebanese survivors like my officemate, Maggie. Never did I imagine while watching the news with my family 25 years ago that I would be in attendance at this commemoration ceremony while having the honor to serve my country at the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
April 18, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

In service to the memory of those who've given their lives for freedom I post the following to those seeking the holy grail of "behavior change". For to sin in silence is to make cowards of men, and I cannot but ask, how long Iran will be alowed to sing this song of death and destruction?

Iran Unveils Hezbollah Commander Stamp
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran issued a stamp Monday in commemoration of a top Hezbollah commander wanted by the U.S. who was killed in a car bombing in Syria last month, the official news agency IRNA reported.

The stamp, which features a smiling picture of Imad Mughniyeh wearing a military uniform, was unveiled at a ceremony attended by Iran's minister of post and communication, Mohammad Soleimani, and Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, former chief of the country's elite Revolutionary Guards, according to the report.

The Lebanon-based extremist group Hezbollah and Iran, its main backer, blamed Mughniyeh's assassination on Israel, which denied any role.

Mughniyeh was one of the world's most feared terror masterminds, accused of killing hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings in Lebanon the 1980s. He was also blamed for taking Westerners hostage and the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed.

In the 1990s, he went into hiding, and Western and Israeli intelligence accuse him of planning suicide bombings against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Argentina that killed over 100 people. Over the past 15 years, he is believed to have moved in secret between Lebanon, Iran and Syria.

Mike
April 18, 2008

Mike in Canada writes:

I remember this being covered heavily here in Canada... What a sad day that was. God Bless the victims, their family's and the troops who continue to serve for the greater good.

SRJeff
|
Arizona, USA
April 20, 2008

Jeff in Arizona writes:

Very nice, lilting, and touching anecdote, Mr. Michaels. But why no mention of the perpetrators of said violence?

God go with all of their families.

ashraf
|
Lebanon
April 22, 2008

Ashraf in Lebanon writes:

Well... It was civil war...

What do u expect?

The U.S. embassy wasn't the only embassy targeted :/

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