Go to triangular compass
Left arrow

Marine History 101: Beirut and Grenada

Community Support
Community Support
October 17, 2019
Share on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on Linkedin
Copy Link

Stay Up to Date on American Grit

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

October 1983 is a significant month in the history of the United States Marine Corps. It tells a story of loss, victory, and brotherhood. It is a month whose story is written over the course of almost two years; not by one, or two, but five of the Corps’ infantry units.If you came into the Marine Corps in the late 1980s or early 1990s- you knew of a small group of battle tested Marines and, if you were lucky, they were among the ranks of your leaders. These were the Marines and Sailors who served in Beirut, Lebanon, and Grenada. At the time, they were the few (other than the very senior leaders who served in Vietnam) that wore a combat action ribbon and, in some cases, a Purple Heart.The Long History of Marines in Beirut

US Marines arrive in Beirut by direction of President Dwight D. EisenhowerFrom the 1950s through the 1980s, just about every infantry battalion from the 2nd Marine Division, as well as their supporting elements, had deployed to Beirut. By 1982 the violence and complexity of Beirut had reached a boiling point. The city had become a hub for terrorist groups, kidnappings, assassinations, a brutal civil war between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, and the interference of rogue states, such as Iran and Syria. It had also become a front line in the conflict between Israel and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).The only rule of law and order came from the Multinational Force (MNF), comprised of US Marines and ground combat forces from Britain, France , and Italy.By early 1983, 2nd Bn 6th Marines (2/6) had come on station as part of the 22nd MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit). They had just relieved 3rd Bn 8th Marines (3/8). The next 90 days would prove progressively more violent, including the bombing of the US Embassy in April 1983, killing 63 people. This was just the beginning of the escalation of events in October 1983.In May 1983, the 24th MAU (comprised mainly of 1st Bn 8th Marines (1/8)) relieved 2/6 and the 22nd MAU. 1/8 took position for what would become a hot and deadly summer.

Image result for us marines in lebanon

The Unlikely Arrival from HawaiiBy September 1983, Beirut had seen a new high of death and destruction. The Marines of 1/8 were counting the days and weeks before their brothers from 2nd Bn 8th Marines (2/8) would arrive to relieve them. With 2/8 not fully ready to deploy, a unique decision was made.Hawaii based 3rd Bn. 3rd Marines (3/3) was afloat in the Red Sea with the 31st MAU when they were ordered to transit the Suez Canal and reinforce 1/8 in Beirut. The elements of 3/3 that went ashore were significant participants in ground operations alongside 1/8. It was much needed reinforcement. With tensions leveling off and a brewing crisis in the Strait of Hormuz, 3/3 returned to ship and the 31st MAU was redirected to their original area of operations. This happened just days before October 23, 1983.

Image result for us marines in lebanon

1/8 on patrol in Beirut, 1983Grenada EruptsIn late October 1983, 2/8 departed as part the 22nd MAU from Camp Lejeune, bound for Lebanon. Days into their deployment, the decision was made for them to make a hard right and head south to Grenada. This was not an easy decision as the Marines of 1/8 needed 2/8 to arrive on station in Beirut.But Grenada had just been subject to a violent Marxist coup with the presence of Cuban forces and Soviet support, and the Marines were needed there, too. Unknowingly, 2/8 would become part of one the most lethal Joint Task Forces- which included elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne, Rangers, Delta Force, and US Navy SEALS. "Operation Urgent Fury," as it became known, would validate the United States' Rapid Deployment doctrine.October 23rd, 1983As 2/8 steamed towards Grenada, news broke of one of the deadliest days in Marine Corps history.On the morning of October 23, terrorists sent an explosive-packed truck, driven by a suicide bomber, directly into the Marine barracks- where members of 1/8 lived. The "Beirut Barracks bombing" (as it is known), killed 307 people. 241 of those were military members of the MNF, 220 were US Marines part of 1/8, and the rest were mainly US Navy members and French Paratroopers. Americans had not seen such a death toll of American troops since the Vietnam War.

Image result for us marines in lebanon

The Aftermath on October 23rd, 1983Staying on MissionSadness and rage were the mood among 2/8 as news came of the murder of their brothers in Beirut, but 2/8 had clear orders to continue towards Grenada. 1/8 did, however, receive some immediate assistance. Members of 2/6, which was the 2nd Marine Division’s Air Contingency Battalion at the time, immediately deployed several elements by air to reinforce 1/8 on the ground in Beirut. Most of the 1/8 casualties impacted the Headquarters and Service Company, so 2/6 augmented this for 1/8. As 2/6 had just been there several months ago, they were able to make an immediate impact.Operation Urgent Fury

Image result for operation urgent fury

Marines from 2/8 at Pearls Airport, GrenadaWithin 48 hours of the tragedy in Beirut, Operation Urgent Fury started. Members of 2/8 conducted a series of missions in Grenada alongside their Airborne counterparts. 2/8 initially came in via helicopters from the USS Guam and then seized control of Pearls Airport. They also assisted in the release of American students at St. George University.In addition, Navy SEALS found themselves trapped during an attempt to evacuate Grenada’s Governor General. Golf Company 2/8 came ashore through an amphibious landing and, supported by the BLT’s (Battalion Landing Team) tank element, they successfully liberated the SEAL’s and the Governor General; allowing the SEAL team to complete it's evacuation.Less than a week later, 2/8 returned to it's ships and continued course for Beirut.

Image result for reagan beirut memorial

President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan meet survivors of the bombing.The Changing of the GuardBy mid-November 1983, 2/8 arrived on station in Beirut. 1/8 was back at sea homeward bound, and the elements of 2/6 had flown back to North Carolina. The next several months, however, would continue to see an escalation of violence.2/8 had a series of key objectives- one of which was guarding the British Embassy. As 2/8 continued its mission on the ground, the political endurance for Beirut was fading fast in Washington DC. In late February 1984, 2/8 was relieved by 3/8 and began their journey home. Most of 3/8 remained afloat, with only a few key elements going ashore in Beirut. During the course of 3/8’s deployment in the region, President Ronald Reagan officially withdrew the Marines and other American forces from the MNF.After the MNFBeirut continued to be highly contested for the next several years. In the summer of 1989, 2/8 found themselves poised to conduct raid operations in Beirut and rescue hostages, which included Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins. Higgins was driving back from a UN meeting when he was captured and subsequently tortured. Once the UN Security Council found out about it, they pleaded for his release. Unfortunately, the order was not given in time and Higgins' hanging body was shown on the worldwide news.Beirut would eventually see a new beginning, and by the early 2000s, was on the rebound. A new civil war in 2006 would impede Beirut’s rebirth, but never to the extent of the early 1980’s.During Lebanon’s new troubles in 2006, it was 1/8 who went ashore and carried out a successful evacuation of US citizens, without incident.

Image result for beirut memorial

The Beirut Memorial at Camp Johnson, part of Camp Lejuene, NCThe Impact to Future OperationsGrenada and Beirut leaves no doubt the Marine Corps was, and continues to be, the nation's most agile and effective rapid deployment option. Any number of operations in the 1990s and throughout the Global War on Terror constantly validates the doctrine of the Corps.The veterans of these two conflicts have raised the standard within infantry units; especially during follow on missions like Operation Desert Storm and the liberation of Kuwait. These were the Marines who would become the leaders to harden their units and prepare them to storm Kuwait; as well as operations in Panama, Liberia and Somalia.The Marine Corps has no shortage of significant battles and dates in its history. The years spent in Beirut and the quick draw mission in Grenada must be seen for their important impact. The fallen from these conflicts must never be forgotten while the living veterans deserve our utmost gratitude.For more articles from Faisal "Fez" Sipra, click here.

send a letter to congress
Adds section
Next Up
No items found.