On Oct. 23, 1983, a truck bomb rocked the headquarters of a Marine peacekeeping force in Beirut, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers.
It was the largest single-day loss of life for the Corps since the World War II battle on the island of Iwo Jima.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller was a captain that day at The Basic School aboard Quantico, Virginia, when the news struck of the attack on the Marine barracks.
“It was kind of like 9/11,” Neller said describing the shock and surprise surrounding the attack. “We all kind of grew up that day because we knew the world had changed.”
Neller said that some have gone on to describe the events in Beirut that fateful day in October 1983 as the actual start of the global war on terror.
“Maybe that’s true, I don’t know.”
But the event had a profound effect on the Corps, impacting everything from training to operations, Neller explained.
“It changed the way we all looked at the world,” Neller said. “It’s a dangerous place out there.”
The Beirut bombing “still shapes us today,” he said.
The 35th anniversary of the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon was marked with an observance day held aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
In attendance at Tuesday’s commemoration was Neller and the 29th Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Alfred M. Gray Jr.
Gray was the commander of the 2nd Marine Division during the Beirut bombing.
The former commandant had spearheaded an effort to overhaul the Corps to prepare it for the rapidly evolving dynamics of the world to include conventional and irregular warfare.
“Because of the heroism and the sacrifice of your sons, and your fellow Marines, we improved our capabilities, our training, our education,” Gray said at the 35th anniversary observance event at Camp Lejeune. “We got better, we wrote standard operating procedures.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.