On October 23, 1983 in Beirut Lebanon a truck laden with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT crashed through a gate and into the lobby of the Marine headquarters building. The suicide bomber then detonated his explosives killing 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel, and 3 Army soldiers.
That was and remains the largest single day death toll of US Marines since WWII. The public response by the Reagan Administration was that it pledged to maintain a military peacekeeping force in Lebanon. A plan was drawn up to attack a barracks in Lebanon that housed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards believed to have been training Hezbollah fighters responsible for the attack. The Battleship New Jersey was moved off the coast of Lebanon and even shelled some suspected terrorist camps.
Worries about reactions from "friendly" Arab nations prevented the Reagan administration from taking any overly aggressive action, therefore canceling the planned targeting of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards barracks. The International Peacekeeping force was eventually withdrawn and Lebanon descended further into civil war and chaos. Probably the Reagan Administration's biggest mistake and a victory for the purveyors of terrorism in the Middle East.
Where was I
I heard the news of the Marine barracks bombing while on patrol on the USS Simon Bolivar SSBN 641 Gold.
USS Simon Bolivar SSBN 641 (Source: US Navy)
A couple weeks later the Bolivar was nearing the end of it's 70 day patrol and was given new orders, "Liberty Call", but where?
The USS Simon Bolivar in 1983 was one of the few C4 Trident Missile Backfit boats and being a boomer, liberty port calls during a strategic deterrent patrol were very rare. Additionally most port calls for boomers were limited to relatively friendly places, Port Canaveral FL, Halifax Nova Scotia, places like that. With few exceptions, countries didn't like Nuclear Powered Submarines with Nuclear Weapons capability sitting in one of their ports. But we were on the other side of the Atlantic from any of those "regular" liberty ports so where were we going especally with the 1980's anti-US and Reagan climit in Europe and ongoing terrorism.
Our port visit was, Agadir Morocco, in North Africa. According to the CIA factbook Morocco is 98% Sunni Muslim, maybe not the place to send a Ballistic Missile Submarine after a terrorist attack, especially in light of recent history.
Twenty two years later I may be reading more into the coincidence of a my rare SSBN North African port visit and the Beirut bombing. I had great respect for Ronald Reagan and would like to think that someone in his Administration wanted to send a message to any possible State sponsor of terrorism that the US had other options within the range on an SLBM for a trouble making Middle Eastern nation. Of course today there are still those who can't leave Lebanon to the Lebanese people.
More information about the Beirut Marine barracks bombing can be found at the Memorial site or Alington Cemetery site.