Thirty-five years ago evaporated, and Thomasine Baynard was right back to Oct. 23, 1983. That was the day her husband was killed in the terrorist bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.
On Tuesday, she came with family members to remember her husband, James R. Baynard, and the other Marines, sailors and service members killed in the terrorist attack during the Beirut Memorial Observance at Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
“It’s been 35 years, and you would think that the feelings would have subsided, but every time I come back here, everything comes rushing back,” Thomasine Baynard said.
The couple’s son, Stephen, was just a month old when the bombing happened.
“It’s like a reunion with the veterans and all the families, but it’s also a time of remembrance,” Baynard said. “It’s special.”
Wayne Baynard recalled memories of his brother James in Indiana.
“It just brings back all those deep feelings we had growing up together,” he said of the anniversary.
Songs, music and speeches echoed through the trees during the ceremony. Laughter, smiles and memories mixed with tears of sadness as family members gathered for the observance.
Col. Scott A. Baldwin, acting commander of Marine Corps Installations East, was among those who noted the spirit of cooperation and community among military and civilian leaders as the anniversary of the bombing is marked.
“This memorial garden stands as a testament to the fact that we will never forget the sacrifice of our Marines, sailors and soldiers,” Baldwin said.
Gen. Robert B. Neller, 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, told those gathered that he may be one of the few current active-duty Marines who was serving on the day of the attack in 1983. He was a captain in Quantico, Virginia on Oct. 23, 1983.
“We knew Marines were in Beirut, but maybe we were naive, not paying attention,” Neller said. “We didn’t know the dangers and the horrors of war.
“I think we all kind of grew up that day because we knew the world had changed. … I think it changed the way we all looked at the world. I think it changed all of us. I think it made us all realize that it’s a dangerous place out there, and the reason our nation has Marines is so that we can go to bed at night, and we don’t have to worry about stuff like that.”
He said the Marine Corps still feels the impact of the bombing today.
“I know it changed the way we saw the world; it changed the way we look at threats; it changed the way we train; it changed the way we operated, and those lessons learned carry through the rest of our time as Marines, and that impact of Beirut still shapes us today,” Neller said. “Marines always remember the incredible acts of those who preceded us, and this is no less an act of selflessness and sacrifice and courage.
“Your Marine Corps and this community continue to pay homage and to commemorate those lives lost, to remember the families and the legacy those Marines left, and that legacy matters — today, tomorrow. Every member who was present that day regardless of whether they were Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines contributed to that legacy, and we will never forget that, nor will we forget their families or them as fallen heroes.”
Retired Marine Corps general Al Gray, the 29th commandant of the Marine Corps, served as the commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at the time of the attack. After receiving a rousing ovation from the crowd, he told them that he worried about the nation after the bombing, but on the way to a funeral with his wife Jan in Alabama, he realized that he need not worry.
“We rode through miles and miles of farmland. During that ride, every farmer tilling the soil, hundreds of them, were standing by the roadside or standing in the fields standing at attention and all saluting,” Gray said. “I said to Jan, ‘we’re going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.’”
Virgil Young was a corporal serving in Beirut at the time of the bombing.
“I have a mix of emotions,” Young said after the observance. “I still sometimes deal with the survivor’s guilt.”
He called those killed in the bombing his family.
“Each member on that wall is nothing but one of my brothers,” Young said. “I had talked to a gold star family. Even though they may have lost a son, they gained many sons. That’s how I feel about it. I really miss those guys.”
A friend Young went to school with, Allen Wesley, was among those killed during the attack.
“I know God is with them as they sleep,” Young said.