Lance Cpl. Lex Trahan ― a 19-year-old only child from Lafayette, Louisiana ― had dreamed of going to college after the military and becoming an engineer on an oil rig.
Before he deployed to Lebanon as a combat engineer, his mother made him his favorite meal: spaghetti and meatballs.
But on Oct. 23, 1983, he, along with 240 U.S. service members — 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers — died in an attack by two suicide bombers. Most of them had been stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
After his death, she never made that dish again, Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, commanding general of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said Sunday at the Beirut Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at an annual commemoration event for those who died in the attack 39 years ago.
For many residents of Camp Lejeune and nearby Jacksonville, North Carolina, the bombing that took place in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, touched them personally.
A suicide bomber had driven a truck carrying explosives into the barracks building that housed troops from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Several of Sunday’s speakers underscored the ties between Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and the local civilian community, which also found itself grieving for friends, family and neighbors.
“So many were lost, and the loss touched so many, that, through this tragedy, we created a bond,” Jacksonville Mayor Sammy Phillips said, speaking in front of a wall inscribed with the names of 273 troops who died during the mission in Lebanon.
The service members had been stationed in Beirut to coordinate the withdrawal of Palestinian forces from Lebanon.
Gen. Al Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987–1991, gave a brief speech that concluded, “Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. God bless you, and semper fidelis.”
Now 94 years old, Gray was the commander of the 2nd Marine Division at the time of the attack.
The event also featured solemn performances by the 2nd Marine Division Band and the Northside High School chorus.
After the commemoration, family members of those who died in the bombing approached the memorial wall to run their hands over their loved ones’ names.
The ceremony wasn’t the only way Jacksonville, North Carolina, marked the anniversary.
Early in the morning, survivors and family members of victims of the attack held a candlelit vigil, said Fernando Schiefelbein, a member of the Beirut Memorial Advisory Board.
In the two days leading up to the anniversary, Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, ran 241 miles in teams to honor the troops who died in the bombing, according to Schiefelbein.
Oct. 23, 1983, was the deadliest day for Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Fifty-eight French peacekeepers and six Lebanese civilians also died that day.
Cpl. John McCall, who grew up in Rochester, New York, had been determined to become a Marine, Ottignon said during the ceremony’s main address.
When he and his friend went to a Marine recruiter’s office to enlist, a sign on the door said, “I’ll be back at 1500 hours.”
“His friend Paul couldn’t wait, and joined the Navy,” Ottignon said. “Not John. Not John. John went into the Marines.”
McCall became a Marine wireman at age 19. He died on Oct. 25, 1983, of wounds he sustained in the bombing.
“Today, we’re all reminded that we stand on the shoulders of these great men, men like Lex and John, and we remember,” Ottignon said.
“We commit ourselves to never forget,” the commanding general said. “And I can assure you, in II MEF, we will never forget.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.