By Trista Talton - Staff writerPosted : Tuesday Oct 23, 2007 17:31:24 EDT
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — They gently brushed their fingertips across the stone where the names of the men who died on a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in 1983 are engraved.
On Tuesday, families and friends gathered around the Beirut Memorial here once again to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the day terrorists drove a bomb-laden truck into the headquarters building for the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers.
The crowd — filled with an assortment of Marines, sailors, airmen, soldiers, mothers, fathers, wives, children and survivors of the blast — looked toward the wall as speakers talked about that fateful day.
Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, commander of Marine Corps Installations-East and the ceremony’s guest speaker, told the story of one survivor, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Nashton, who was fighting for his life on a hospital bed in Germany when he and other survivors were visited by then-Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley.
Nashton could not see or speak and could barely hear. When Kelley knelt by his bedside, Nashton reached out a hand and brushed his fingers over the general’s star-collared shirt.
Nashton signaled he wanted to write something. He was handed a pen and paper and scribbled two words — “Semper Fi” — before handing the paper to Kelley, Dickerson said.
“Jeffrey feels guilty, as many of you do today, that he survived,” Dickerson said. “Don’t feel guilty. It’s your memory. It’s their legacy you’re maintaining.”
Dickerson rattled off a long list of terrorist attacks dating back to November 1979, when the U.S. Embassy in Iran was taken over by militants. He spoke of various embassy attacks throughout the years, the bombing of the Cole and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“The lessons learned in Beirut are relevant today,” Dickerson said. “These cowards are still out there. These cowards — these terrorists — are global. And they fear democracy.”