This Wednesday marks the 36th anniversary of the second deadliest terrorist attack against Americans in history. Sadly, most Americans know little or nothing about it.
It was Oct. 23, 1983, and a multinational peacekeeping force was stationed in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. Shortly after 6:20 a.m., without warning, two trucks with bombs carrying thousands of pounds of explosives struck two buildings in Beirut where the troops were stationed.
The attacks killed 307 people, including 241 U.S. troops (220 were Marines), 58 French troops, six civilians and the two suicide bombers. Hundreds more were wounded.
The suicide bombers belonged to the terrorist group Hezbollah. The attack was backed by Iran.
Lance Cpl. John Kinslow, a 20-year-old Marine from Valley City, N.D., was sleeping at the time of the attack. The enormous blast shot him from one side of the building to the other.
“I was in shock,” said Kinslow. “I tried getting up using my right hand, but my elbow gave way. I passed out from blood loss and shock.”
Kinslow suffered injuries to his elbow, nose, right ear, left hand and right foot, where an artery was torn.
“I was screaming in pain,” Kinslow said. “A corpsman gave me a shot of morphine.”
Kinslow was put on a helicopter and taken to a ship, the USS Iwo Jima.
“There was chaos on the Iwo Jima,” Kinslow said. “There were bodies everywhere. I was sad and angry. These were guys I had served with and now they were gone.”
Kinslow eventually made it back to the U.S. to recover from his injuries.
One of those missing after the bombings was Marine Cpl. John Olson, 21, of Sabin, Minn. It took seven anguishing days before Olson’s family was officially notified that he was dead.
“It was devastating news,” said Wendy Lange, Olson’s sister. “We all just fell apart. I couldn’t fathom it…Johnny really cared about people. He was strong, religious, a lover of life and couldn’t wait to come home.”
I had interviewed the Olson family during that painful, uncertain period of his disappearance, and I covered the funeral. During the funeral, something happened to me that had never occurred on any other story. I started crying. I couldn’t control it. I am guessing it was because of the senselessness of his killing, and the grief suffered by his friends and family.
The only other time I cried on a story was five years later under similar circumstances. I was covering the funeral of Steven Berrell, 20, of Fargo. Berrell and 269 other people died after Libyan terrorists blew up their Pan Am plane over Scotland. After Berrell’s tearful good friends started speaking about him, I just lost it. Probably for the same reasons as Olson’s funeral.
Both Kinslow and Lange say they want people to learn about the Beirut attack.
“I want people to remember those who gave their lives to this country because they believed in it,” said Kinslow. “Two of my best friends died just feet from me. Why were they taken and not me?”
“I don’t understand why they’re not teaching about this horrific attack,” said Lange. “I miss my brother a ton. I think about him every week. I wish I knew what kind of man he would have grown up to be.”