It is our goal to remind America of what you endured.
It is also important to connect the dots — to remember that Beirut was not an anomaly, but the opening shot in a four-decade war that would see American troops battle in the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq.
It is our duty to capture the lessons learned from the past and apply them going forward as wisdom. That is what we owe our sons and daughters, what we owe the next generation, so that they do not have to re-learn the same lessons in blood.
In the immediate aftermath of the BLT bombing, Marine Corps Commandant General Paul Kelley was called to testify before Congress. During a moment of frustration, as he grappled with myopic lawmakers unable to see the big picture, the general asked whether it would take a suicide bomber crashing an airplane for America to wake up to the reality of this new war.
How prophetic he was.
Each year since 1983, veterans, family, and friends have gathered here to remember our fallen heroes. The people in the city of Jacksonville and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune have been steadfast in their support.
And it is vital that this tradition continues, to remind America and the world that these men — these Marines, sailors, and soldiers — were a special breed. Trained as warriors, they went to Beirut on a mission of peace.
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of that horrible terrorist attack, we pause to remember those who died that Sunday morning.
But it is important that we remember they were not the only ones who gave their lives for this mission. During the two years, between 1982 and 1984, that American forces were deployed in Beirut, an additional 29 men were killed in the line of duty and hundreds more were wounded.
Just as the tragedy of Beirut remains with each and every one of you, it also haunted President Ronald Reagan. “Every day since the death of those boys,” he wrote in his memoir, “I have prayed for them and their loved ones.”
After he decided in March 1984 to end America’s involvement with the multinational force, Reagan sat down with a pen and paper and recorded his thoughts on Lebanon. His personal secretary later typed his notes and delivered them to White House speechwriters for possible inclusion in a future address, but the president’s private thoughts would never be uttered in public.