By: Mireille Rebeiz, Ph.D.
I met Jeff Mosher in a coffee shop in Canal Winchester, Ohio. I was nervous for I was meeting with a veteran, a U.S. Marine who served in Beirut during the bloodiest years of the Lebanese civil war and was in the country during the Beirut Barracks bombing.
War erupted in Lebanon on April 13, 1975, and the Lebanese authorities appealed to the West for help: the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy answered the call and sent a Multinational Force.
On October 23, 1983, a terrorist attack targeted the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut killing 241 American service members. Seconds later, another attack targeted the French barracks killing 58. Strong evidence suggests that Iran and the militia that later became known as Hezbollah were behind them. The Beirut Barracks bombing remains the largest loss of life for the U.S Marine Corps since World War II.
Now, 38 years later, Jeff was sitting across from me in the coffee shop. He told me he was only 19 years old when he arrived in Beirut as part of the peacekeeping mission in 1983, on his second deployment as a Marine. He was on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea when the first Marines landed in 1982.
I asked him why he wanted to be a Marine, and he said he believes in protecting others. He said that most people flee disasters, but Marines do the opposite and run toward danger. That is what Jeff did in 1983. As others fled the city, he patrolled streets in Beirut between the airport, the makeshift US Embassy, and the Lebanese University and kept his team safe. At sundown, as the sound of gunshots and explosions grew louder, so did his Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd music.
He told me of his "luxurious five-star accommodation," his walks on the Corniche along the Mediterranean, his runs at the American University of Beirut, and his adoption of a stray dog the Marines named Max. He told me how Marines who landed in Beirut wanted to protect the Lebanese people. He told me he has no hate in his heart: "there are bad people everywhere in the world, and it was not the Lebanese people’s fault."
When the barracks exploded, Jeff was a mile and a half away, at the University Science building with Alpha Company’ position. He heard the explosion, saw the massive plume, and felt its shockwave. He lost many friends that day including a fellow Marine who had been his friend since middle school. Jeff himself, among others, was reported missing in action for days.
When I asked Jeff if he believes America remembers the Marines’ sacrifice that day, he said "for the most part, no." I must agree with him. America has a selective memory when it comes to wars.
The 1983 Barracks bombing is forgotten, perhaps purposely pushed aside in history books as it darkens Reagan’s legacy. His administration’s failure to understand the situation in the Middle East resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. A few days after this disaster, Reagan announced the invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983. It was a diversionary tactic designed to distract American citizens from the tragedy in Beirut.
Unfortunately, America is still distracted for not only we have forgotten about the 241 Americans service members who died in the Barracks bombing, as well as the other 32 Marines who gave their last full measure from 1982-84, but we have also forgotten about the survivors, survivors like Jeff.
Survivors have stories to tell; stories of brotherhood, of bar fights, of sleepless nights with doubtful hygiene while on patrol, and of Lebanese children who sought Marines’ help and protection while under fire. More importantly, they have stories to tell about the value of peacekeeping missions.
We are a nation that funds jingoistic wars and sends young men and women barely out of childhood to fight for causes they do not fully understand. Then, when they come home, we withhold our support. We are a nation that stands for veterans and applauds them at parades and sporting events, and then, when the crowds are gone, we tell them to forget their loss, get over their trauma, and move on.
The "thank you for your service" platitudes are meaningless if not followed up with real deeds. We need to create healing spaces for veterans like Jeff, so they can tell their stories, document history, and teach us about human suffering.
It took me 38 years to find Jeff and his golden heart. Our paths crossed back in 1982 when he was patrolling the streets of Beirut, and I was a baby. Jeff kept me and many other civilians safe. I urge every American to remember the Beirut Barracks bombing, the service members we lost, and the survivors we continue to leave behind.
Mireille Rebeiz, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Dickinson College.