US & Canada

Thirty years later, a bombing in Lebanon still echoes

Marines search the rubble for survivors (23 October 2013)
Image caption FBI investigators later said the bomb that blew up the marine barracks was the largest conventional blast they had ever seen

On 23 October 1983, bombs exploded in Beirut, killing 241 US service members and 58 French paratroopers. Survivors describe what happened on that day - and afterwards.

The multinational force of American, French, British and Italian soldiers was deployed to Lebanon following the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by militiamen.

Their mission: to back the Lebanese Armed Forces and help them establish and maintain sovereignty over war-torn Beirut.

The operation was intended to be brief. But in April 1983, the US embassy in Beirut was destroyed, and the situation for the multinational force deteriorated from there.

Then the US marines and the French paratroops were attacked - in two separate suicide bombings, occurring at about the same time.

Soon afterwards US troops and other members of the multinational force pulled out of Lebanon. And the survivors of the attacks tried to get on with their lives.

Price Troche, Hayward, California

Image caption A truck laden with explosives crashed through the marine base's defensive perimeter

I woke up and got dressed, brushed my teeth, shaved and started to listen to some music on my walkman.

A half hour later I heard a loud explosion. I got out of my bunker and saw a huge plume of smoke. And then I heard people yelling that they hit the battalion.

I saw caravans of trucks and marines racing towards the battalion.

I was in Beirut until November. I had nightmares, anger - and pulled away. To this day my dad, mom, brother, wife and children don't know what I saw.

Jack Anderson, Kennesaw, Georgia

I was on watch, manning communications. I was relieved from my post and returned to my bunk.

I lay down to sleep and the next thing I knew I awoke under two huge concrete pillars. They were lodged on top of me.

I was able to escape, and I stumbled around. Everywhere you looked, there were parts of the building or a dead marine or a body part.

The building was gone, reduced to a smouldering pile of rubble about 60ft (18m) high.

I saw marines burned by battery acid, which had drained on to victims who were pinned with no way to escape.

I heard faint voices and cries out to God for help. There was an awful smell in the air, and I could taste dirt and grit inside my mouth.

The experience has caused me great pain and anguish over the years and even today it continues to be an ever-present part of me.

Robert Jordan, Lexington, Kentucky

Image caption Surviving French paratroops carried the bodies of their comrades from the rubble

We had rigging to hang mosquito nets, which we also used to air out our uniforms and to dry out our towels.

That saved me from blast wounds as the shards of glass and fractured concrete whirled about.

In my underwear I picked my way through the debris to the operations centre, located down a narrow hall in the main building. Wires hung, dangling like wet spaghetti.

I spied my deputy struggling up the hill with a badly bleeding marine on his back. I asked him where he was going.

He replied that he was taking the marine to the aid station at the Marine Service Support Group because the battalion aid station and all the battalion medical staff were buried in the basement.

A fine grey powder of pulverised cement covered everything.

It reminded me of a scene of the volcanic eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington three years before - debris and body parts, covered by the fine dust.

Off to one side I spied what I first thought to be a ragged tree stump - until I noticed blood oozing from the stump. It was a human leg.

Nearby, the lid of an ammunition box was impaled up in a palm tree.

Ahead I could see the media waiting. What could I say? I didn't know what the answers were myself.

I organised my teams to take groups of newsmen and photographers around the rubble, letting them document the 40ft-wide crater.

I live with what happened in Beirut almost every day. But I am determined to let the world know that the bombing did not defeat us. We are still here.

Danny Joy, Jacksonville, North Carolina

I thought, "What... was that?"

To this day I can smell it, and I can hear the screams for help, I can feel the dust upon my skin. I can feel the reverberations and the concussion in my body from the explosion - and the ringing in my ears.

I feel guilty that I lived through it. Now I stay in my "bunker" at home, a trailer where I have been living since 2001. I am at peace in my own little world - me and my two dogs.

A wise veteran once said for those who died the war is over. For the rest of us it is only a nightmare away.

Reported and written by Alasdair Soussi