The Rhode Island Nine of the Beirut Bombing
This Friday October 23rd will mark 37 years since the terrorist attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. 241 Marines and Sailors lost their lives that day, all members of Battalion Landing Team 1/8 (BLT).
From the rubble rose many wounded and with them, stories of survival and loss of their brethren. Among them is the story of the ‘Rhode Island Nine” and the mission of one Marine to honor their memory.
Michael Harris of Rhode Island shipped for Parris Island before his 18th birthday. After earning the title Marine, he trained as a Combat Engineer. He reported for duty at 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion at Camp Lejeune, NC. Not long after his arrival in the “fleet,” Harris’ platoon was assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1/8. The “BLT” which was mainly 1st Bn. 8th Marines with it’s other division attachments was the ground combat element (GCE) of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
In the spring of 1983, the BLT and MEU deployed to Beirut, Lebanon as part of the Multi National Peacekeeping Force (MNF). Harris’s Combat Engineer Platoon was part of the headquarters company of BLT 1/8 and made the journey to Lebanon on the USS Iwo Jima. Over the next several months BLT 1/8 found themselves in the middle of a civil war and under fire from all corners.
Nothing during the deployment would prepare the Marines from the horror of October 23rd, 1983. In the early hours of that Sunday as most of the Marines and Sailors slept at the makeshift barracks, they were struck by suicide bomber who drove a truck loaded of explosives into the building.
Lance Corporal Michael Harris is one of 81 wounded survivors the attack. He was ejected from the building when the blast went off. From his account, he was one of the lucky ones that did not end up buried under the rubble. Harris remembers waking up to find himself at a military hospital in Italy, and eventually being moved to Germany. He recalls learning of those who died and in particular learning that he was the lone survivor of 10 Marines in the barracks who were from Rhode Island. These nine Marines would be always known to him as the “Rhode Island Nine”.
A Survivor and His Mission
Harris would spend the rest of his time in the Marine Corps mainly in medical care and rehabilitation. In 1985 Harris was honorably discharged, and returned to Rhode Island. He went to college, spent two years as a State Correctional Officer and would serve 18 years as a police officer. Through these years, Harris subsequently developed a special connection with families of the Rhode Island 9. He describes the very special bonds that developed such as naming children in honor of the fallen.
Among the 9 were 2 brother in laws, a newly wed, a new father, and one Marine who’s brother was serving in Alpha Company 1/8.
Like all who survived that day in Beirut, life has not been without its pain for Michael Harris. However, the greatest pain being how many people have forgotten or not aware of the sacrifices made in Lebanon. Not just for that day, but throughout the involvement of Marines in Lebanon.
“Sometimes it feels everything after Vietnam and before 9/11/2001 is not acknowledged,” says Harris. A truth heard not only from veterans of Beirut but also from veterans from other conflicts of the 80’s and 90’s.
Rhode Island Honors the Nine
After retiring from the Providence Police Department, Michael Harris went to work for the Rhode Island state legislature, specifically for the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nicholas A. Mattiello (D).
Harris describes the Speaker as a man who had a vision. Mattiello believed it was long overdue that the “Rhode Island 9” were officially honored by their home state. Now, with the support of the state’s House Speaker, a proper memorial would become a reality. Harris received tremendous support by the state of Rhode Island.
The Chairman of The Rhode Island House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D) brought leadership that overcame obstacles to the memorial mission. Chief of Inspections Jonathan Depault, the state’s Department of Administration Facilities Management, Depault was also a key advocate. He located a beautiful riverfront location in downtown Providence, RI, where family members, friends, veterans and the general public can reflect and honor the Rhode Island Nine.
Sgt. Major Ed Kane (US Army) and Marine Veteran Charles A. Masterson, not to mention the other commission members were also instrumental with the design and development of the memorial.
Dedication of the Memorial
Rhode Island’s government delivered to recognize their nine Marine Corps sons who’s watch ended in Beirut on October 23rd, 1983. Several key government officials from both the state and federal government were in attendance as well as a number of senior military members and Veteran activists. The Rhode Island National Guard also provided a flyover.
The reality of this memorial is was the mission of Michael Harris and all those who joined him. It is the hope that this memorial not only bring peace to the families of the Rhode Island Nine, but also to the survivors across the country of the Beirut Bombing. May this serve as a reminder to all of us that even in peacetime, our peace and freedom are never free.
The Rhode Island Nine- Speak their names:
Sgt. Timothy Robert Giblin – Born 7/26/63, Hometown North Providence, RI. Administrative Clerk, The youngest child of Jeanne Giblin, of North Providence, who raised 11 children alone after the death of her husband, 19 years before. Giblin’s brother Donald was also in Beirut during the bombing and accompanied Timothy’s body back to the United States. At the age of 20 Sgt. Giblin left his wife, Valerie, and a daughter, Tiffany.
Cpl. Rick Robert Crudale. Born 03/06/62. West Warwick, RI. Field Radio Operator. A graduate of Coventry High School, with certification in welding and auto-body work from the West Bay Vocational Technical School. At 21 he left his wife Heidi Petrozzi, they were married in April 1983 just prior to deployment.
Cpl. Edward Salvatore Iacovino – Born 6/19/63, Hometown Warwick, RI. Enlisted in the USMC in 1980 as a rifleman and previously attended Pilgrim High School. At the age of 20 he left his parents. Elizabeth and Edward.
Cpl. David C Massa – Born 10/6/62. Warren, RI. Unit Diary Clerk. Age 21. He was planning to go to college after his Marine enlistment ended.
Cpl. Thomas Alan Shipp – Born 9/4/56. Hometown: Woonsocket, RI, mortarman, age 27.
Cpl. Edward Soares Jr – Born 5/23/62. Hometown: Tiverton, RI, Food Service Specialist, he participated in the ROTC unit at Tiverton High School, from which he graduated in 1981. He was a 21 year old cook who was planning to marry Lisa Jusseaume, of Tiverton, in early 1984.
Cpl. James Francis Silvia. Born 05/26/63. Middletown, RI. Food Service Specialist, a graduate of Middletown High School, class of 1981, where he was on the football and track teams. A cook in the Marines, he planned to enter culinary arts school after his enlistment. His brother-in-law, Cpl Stephen E Spencer, also died in the Beirut bombing. At the age of 20 he left his mother, Mrs. Patricia Farrell and his father Joseph.
Cpl. Stephen E Spencer of Portsmouth RI was a native of Pensacola, FL. His residence had been Portsmouth since marrying Lynn Silvia, Cpl. James F Silvia’s sister in May 1983, one day before he left for Beirut at the of 23.
LCpl. Thomas Adrian Julian – Born 10/27/61. Hometown Portsmouth RI. Intelligence Specialist, he graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1979. He served as an acolyte at St Marys Church throughout his youth. He was a Life Scout in the Boy Scouts. At the age of 22 he left his parents, Joyce and Karl.