On Oct. 23, 1983, retired Marine Kevin Jiggets survived one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on Americans. A bomb detonated at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 service members. The bombing would mark the largest loss of life for Marines since the Vietnam War and the worst overall since the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Jiggetts, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, remembers his fellow Marines and friends.
“The whole tragedy gives a greater respect for life because in a matter of seconds all my guys were gone,” Jiggetts said. “Just like that, 241 of my best friends gone in an instant. You respect life, and the possibilities of life. Their youthful faces, that’s all I remember. They never got a chance to be 56 like me and grow up.”
Each year on Oct. 23, hundreds of Marines, Sailors and family members attend a memorial observance at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens to remember the lives lost at Beirut, Lebanon and Grenada, and this year was no exception. More than 1,200 people came to the 2019 ceremony.
“I come here, because I know 90 percent of the men on that wall,” said Jiggetts. “I served with those guys. I come here to pay respects to them. On their shoulders, proudly I stand.”
Jiggetts hasn’t attended every observance in the last 36 years.
“I don’t come every time,” Jiggetts said. “The first time I came that was really hard for me, it’s probably 15 years ago. I just lost my [composure] and everything. I’ve been here about 10 times now over the last 36 years. I think it’s important to remember every now and again that life is valuable and precious.”
Retired Marine Gen. Al Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, talked about the indifference felt between Camp Lejeune and the surrounding community prior to the bombing and how that eventually changed.
“Jacksonville was just another town or city, and the Marines were just another base,” he said. “After [Beirut], we’re as one.”