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Paul 'Doc' Doolittle at a 2012 Marine Corps ball. (Photo courtesy of Doc Doolittle)
The design on T-shirts supporting Paul 'Doc' Doolittle's 273-mile Beirut anniversary walk. (A walk to remember the Beirut barracks bombing gro)
It’s not a monument or an elaborate fundraiser, just a personal journey of remembrance.
As the 30th anniversary of the deadly Oct. 23, 1983, bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, draws close, former Marine sergeant Paul “Doc” Doolittle is preparing to embark on a 273-mile walk in honor of the peacekeeping Americans killed in the attack. In all, 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members were killed when terrorists drove trucks laden with explosives into their barracks buildings.
Doolittle was stationed in Beirut as an embassy security guard in July 1985, shortly after the barracks attack and two separate bombings of U.S. embassy buildings in 1983 and 1984.
“It was the hottest ticket in the world to be assigned there,” he recalled, saying the danger of the post made it appealing to young and adventurous Marines. But, he said, “serving there was quite challenging. There were several car bombings around the area; several hostages taken.”
Still, it wasn’t until years later that Doolittle would meet and befriend the wife and sister of two Marines killed in the 1983 attacks and his understanding of the Beirut tragedy would become more personal.
“It makes it a little more real,” he said. “Not enough people know that this took place. I’d like the nation to stand still and remember on the 23rd.”
In 2008, Doolittle made his first attempt at a walk for remembrance, covering 246 miles in and around Jacksonville, N.C., where the official Beirut memorial stands. This year, the burly 52-year-old Boy Scout leader from Centennial, Colo., is planning to cover 273 miles — one for each of the names etched on the memorial. Those names include troops killed in the 1983 bombings, those who died later as a result of injuries sustained in the attack, and three Marine pilots killed in Grenada the same year.
He’ll start Oct. 1 Swansboro, N.C., about 20 miles outside of Jacksonville. The plan is to cover about 12 miles a day, finishing the walk at the memorial on Oct. 23. He’s not soliciting donations, but he’s offering supporters bright-orange T-shirts commemorating the walk for $20 apiece, and will give $10 from each sale to the Veterans Day Memorial Tribute in Denver, Colo.
A Facebook group created to promote the walk already has nearly 300 supporters, and Doolittle said some may join him on the journey.
At 30 years, Doolittle said it was more important than ever to raise awareness about the bombings and the sacrifice hundreds of peacekeeping troops had made.
“The parents of those Marines (killed in the bombings) are in their late 70s to early 80s,” he said. “It’s likely that this could be a last memorial for some of those families. So a generation then turns.”
As for why Doolittle feels personally called to walk, it’s not just because of his tour in Beirut or in honor of his Marine son, currently serving in Okinawa, Japan on the Unit Deployment Program.
“It really just comes down to two words,” Doolittle said, his voice breaking. “Semper fidelis.”