On October 23rd, 1983, an explosion ripped through an American barracks in Beirut, killing 220 U. S. Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and 3 Army soldiers.  58 French peacekeepers and 6 civilians were also killed in the blast.

Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, and the country’s largest city.  Lebanon lies sandwiched between Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south.  The incident occurred in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted over 15 years total.  After World War II, the country had received its independence from the French, but civil war eventually broke out.  Leading up to the incident in 1983, Israel had invaded Lebanon, international forces were deployed to the area, their president had been elected and then assassinated, there was a massacre that ended with the deaths of 762-3,500 civilians–the area was brimming with instability.

Two trucks laden with VBIEDs (reportedly the equivalent of 21,000 lbs of TNT), detonated near buildings that housed the MNF (Multinational Force in Lebanon).  1st Battalion, 8th Marines were the primary occupying force at these barracks, and so they took the heaviest death toll.  It has been described as the most devastating single blow to the Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, where 6,800 American servicemen were killed.

The Beirut memorial in Camp Lejeune – image courtesy of the U. S. Marine Corps

The truck that hit the Marine Corps barracks was a water truck packed with explosives.  The suicide bomber plowed through concertina wire, and was able to barrel past guard posts as their ROE had not allowed them to keep rounds chambered.  By the time they racked their weapons, the precious second was gone and the truck was too far to accurately engage.