Chapter 2:
Beirut I--Evacuating the PLO
25 August--10 September 1982

Marines had been in Beirut before--in 1958, to be exact.1 In July of that year, Lebanon was threatened by a civil war between Christian Maronites and Muslims. Additionally, Lebanon faced a potential Syrian invasion in support of the Muslims. According, on 14 July, in response to the internal and external threats, Lebanese President Camille Chamoun requested American and British assistance. That same day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower consulted with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the Lebanon crisis, studied their recommendations, and ordered the deployment of U.S. troops to Lebanon.

As a matter of happenstance as well as of contingency planning, three Marine battalion landing teams were then in the Mediterranean. Afloat just north of Malta was Lieutenant Colonel John H. Brickley's BLT 1/8, its Mediterranean deployment near an end, ready to be relieved by the recently arrived BLT 3/6, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Jenkins, on board ships steaming from Crete to Athens. The third BLT was 2/2, Lieutenant Colonel Harry A. Hadd commanding, off the coast of Crete and closest of the three to Lebanon. Another Marine command in the Mediterranean was Brigadier General Sidney S. Wade's 2d Provisional marine Force, which had been formed from troops of the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune in January for a planned combined exercise with the British Royal Marines and the Italian navy on Sardinia. As the situation unfolded in Lebanon and the Marines landed, General Wade eventually took command of all units which had landed.

President Eisenhower's order to deploy the Marines was passed through the chain of command, directing BLT 2/2 to land at 1500 on 15 July on Read Beach. Four miles south of Beirut, just west of Beirut International Airport, and just north of Khaldah, Red Beach would be the scene of another Marine landing nearly 24 years later.

Lieutenant Colonel Hadd's BLT 2/2 landed on time. Before its four rifle companies reached their objective, Beirut International Airport, they were forced to pick their way gingerly through beach obstacles presented by bikini-clad sunbathers and vast numbers of soft drink and ice cream vendors. At the airport, the Marines set up a defense perimeter for the night.

The next day, BLT 3/6 began landing at Red Beach at 0730. At the same time, Hadd's battalion prepared to move into Beirut. After some delays, BLT 2/2/ finally left the airport at 1230, and by 1900 had reached the city, where it took control of the dock area and posted security guards around the American Embassy as well as critical bridge sites.

On 18 July, BLT 1/8 landed over Yellow Beach, near Juniyah, four miles north of Beirut. Concurrently, elements of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, which had been airlifted from Camp Lejuene by way of Cherry Point, began arriving at Beirut International Airport. Also arriving was the U.S. Army 24th Airborne Brigade which had flown in from Germany and was commanded b y Major General Paul D. Adams, who eventually was named Commander in Chief, American Land Forces, comprised of all American troops in Lebanon.

The turmoil in Lebanon settled down after national elections on 31 July. General Fuad Chehab, commander of the Lebanese army, was elected president and on 23 September took office as the head of a coalition government including dissident parties which had been opposed to the previous administration. In mid-August, the first of the Marine BLTs left Beirut, and by 18 October, with the exception of the Security Guard Marines at the American Embassy, all Marines had left Lebanon. While the 2d Marine Division units were in country, there had been only minor confrontations with the Lebanese army and the rebels. A few shots had been fired by both sides, but there were no casualties.

In July 1976, when protracted factional fighting in Beirut threatened the lives and safety of American citizens, Marines were called upon once more, this time to assist in a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO). The 12-man detachment of the Marine Security Guard at the American Embassy in Beirut, and the naval attache, Marine Colonel Forrest J. Hunt, had radio communication with the evacuating unit, Task Force 61. They controlled the orderly evacuation of 160 American civilians and 148 foreign nationals on 27 July.

Despite efforts of the international community to alleviate the bloodletting in Lebanon, the fighting continued, fluctuating with the fortunes and the strength of each of the factions. The Marines entered


Department of Defense (USMC) Photo A17458
Marines of Battalion Landing Team 2/2 form a LVT and tank column on the beach road for the move into Beirut on 16 July 1958. They were the first of the 2d Provisional marine Force to enter the city on this date. The Mediterranean is in the background to the left.

Lebanon once again in June 1982, destined to play a larger role than they had ever anticipated.

On 25 May 1982, the 32d MAU, commanded by Colonel James M. Mead, a veteran Marine aviator known as "Large James" because of his height, embarked in the ships of Commodore (Captain, USN) Richard F. White's Amphibious Squadron (Phibron) 4 at Moorehead City, North Carolina, for deployment to the Mediterranean as the landing force of the Sixth Fleet.2 The MAU was comprised of Battalion Landing Team (BLT)2/8 (Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Johnson), Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261 (Lieutenant Colonel Graydon F. Geske), and MAU Service Support Group (MSSG) 32 (Major William H. Barnetson). In all, it had a total of 1,746 Marines and 78 Navy personnel. The BLT included several elements from its parent 2de Marine Division: an artillery battery, a tank platoon, an assault amphibious vehicle (AAV) (amtrac) platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, an antitank (TOW) section, and a communications section.3

Like the aviation combat element of other MAUs deployed to the Mediterranean, HMM-261 was a composite squadron. As such, it was comprised of 12 Boeing Verrol CH-46E "Sea Knights," 4 Sikorsky CH-53D "Sea Stallions," 4 Bell AH-IT "Sea Cobras," and 2 Bell UH-1N "Iroquois," more often known as the "Huey."

During the Atlantic crossing, the MAU headquarters continued planning and preparing for a joint amphibious exercise in Portugal, 21-26 June. The staff also began preparing the MAU input to a Task Force 61/Task Force 62 operation order for contingency operations in Lebanon.4 As the task force neared the Atlantic coast of Spain, however, events in the eastern Mediterranean were combining to disrupt the original deployment schedule. At 0930 on 6 June, the 32d MAU reached Rota, where, at a later date, it would relieve the 34th MAU as the landing force of the Sixth Fleet.*

As Colonel Mead later wrote:

Within a few hours of tying up at Rota, the message traffic was swelling with stories of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacking into southern Lebanon. At first, the Israeli objective seemed limited to a 40-kilometer artillery buffer zone in southern Lebanon to protect northern Israel from the shelling of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). A few days later, the Israelis would attack Syrian surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in the Bekaa Valley of central Lebanon and eventually encircle the capital city of Beirut in an attempt to destroy the PLO and thereby neuter their political and military influence in the region.5


Anticipating orders to evacuate American citizens from Lebanon, the MAU quickly rearranged the cargo holds of the Phibron 4 ships in order to support the evacuation operations. Also on 6 June, the MAU arrived at Rota where an informal turnover meeting was held with representatives of Phibron 8 and the 34th MAU.6

The elements of Task Forces 61 and 62 were placed on immediate alert and steamed out of Rota on 7 June at 0600, proceeding at maximum speed to their designated operating are in the Eastern Mediterranean approximately 100 miles off the coast of Lebanon.7

While underway during the next two weeks, the MAU and the Phibron conducted extensive planning and training in preparation for the evacuation of American citizens and foreign nationals from Lebanon. Reporting to Lieutenant General John H. Miller, commanding the Norfolk-based Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic (FMFLant), Colonel Mead stated that he had established effective liaison with the Fleet Marine Officer of the 6th Fleet, Colonel Jim R. Joy, who was to play a major role in the Marines' Beirut experience. He further stated that, "At this point, we have a grasp of all problem areas and 32d MAU is ready to accomplish its mission."8 On 17 June, Phibron 4 and 32d MAU officially relieved Phibron 8 and 34th MAU as Task Forces 61 and 62 respectively of the Sixth Fleet.

Prior to their departure from the United States for deployment in the Mediterranean, the MAU and the Phibron had spent a good portion of their time training together practicing the evacuation of civilians from trouble spots. "The procedures were updated by increased training with the TACSIT (Tactical Situations) booklet, which provided a series of wargame type scenarios. . . ."9

In addition, the 32d MAU staff had reviewed the conduct of Operations Eagle Pull and Frequent Wind, the evacuation of civilians and military from Phom Penh and Saigon in 1975 and had re-read the articles concerning these operations which appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette.10

On 15 June, the 32d MAU and Phibron 4 were placed on a three-hour alert to prepare for evacuation operations. Nine days, later, they received the order to execute. The runways at Beirut International Airport had been heavily shelled and were considered not usable, and the road from Beirut to Damascus ran through the scene of heavy fighting. Accordingly, it was determined that the civilians would be evacuated from the port of Juniyah, approximately five miles northeast of Beirut. Initially, the MAU received reports

A Navy landing craft, utility (LCU) carries civilian evacuees to Amphibious Squadron 4 shipping in the waters off Beirut during the emergency in Lebanon in June 1982.


Using makeshift tabletops, evacuees dine with gusto on Navy rations en route to Cyprus.

that there would be more than 5,000 evacuees, but this figure proved to be quite inflated.11

The first landing craft, an LCU, was at the dock in Juniyah at 0800 on 24 June. There was not an evacuee in sight; they had not assembled in Beirut at the designated time. When they did assemble, to aggravate matters, they brought too much luggage. There were not enough buses to carry both the evacuees and all their belongings, but by the end of the day, 580 evacuees had been boated to the ships Nashville (LPD 13) and Hermitage (LSD 34). Heavily involved in the operation was Major William H. Barnetson's MAU Service Support Group (MSSG) 32, which established an Evacuation Control Center where each evacuee's name and passport number along with other appropriate information were entered into a computer and sent to designated State Department agencies. The MSSG also provided health and comfort items (including toys for the children() from the Landing Force Operational Readiness Material (LFORM), a contingency block that each MAU takes to sea.12

Also playing a major role in receiving the evacuees on board the Nashville was Commander George A. Gunst, the MAU's Catholic chaplain. Father Gunst was asked to wear his civilian clothes with clerical collar, so that his presence as a minister might have a calming effect on the evacuees, who had been uprooted from their homes in Beirut. Marines gave up their sleeping spaces for the overnight trip to Larnaca, Cyprus. Enroute, they delighted the children with magic shows and other forms of entertainment.13

After debarking the civilians at Larnaca, The Hermitage and Nashville rejoined the other ships of the Phibron. "Morale was sky high as all felt personal satisfaction for helping remove men, women, and children from the real danger of Lebanon where combat actions were intense in many sectors."14 On 23 June, Task Forces 61 and 62 were put on a two-hour alert to provide helicopter transportation in support of Department of State peace negotiators. HMM-261 soon became known as the "Cammie (camouflage) Cab Service," shuttling White House Special Envoy Philip C. Habib and Ambassador Morris Draper and their parties, between the flagship Guam (LPH 9) and Larnaca, Beirut, and Tel Aviv. During the next four months, the Marine helicopters would fly 62 missions in support of these diplomatic efforts to mediate a peace settlement.

Before long, it became evident that the situation in Lebanon would not be resolved quickly. It also became


apparent that the MAU and the Phibron would have to remain on station in the Eastern mediterranean, not too far from Beirut. Because embarked Marines and sailors had been unable to go ashore for some time, Vice Admiral William H. Rowden, Sixth Fleet commander, sought to relax the alert status to permit some of the ships to visit major ports in the Mediterranean. The Hermitage, Manitowoc (LST 1180), and Saginaw (LST 1188) left the Phibron for Taranto, Italy, on 1 July for rest and recreation, rejoining the rest of the Phibron six days later. The Nashville and Saginaw were detached on 19 July for a port visit to Naples. The flagship could not leave the area, however. As a consolation, to celebrate 45 straight days of shipboard time, Marines on the Guam "spliced the mainbrace" with two cans of beer per man on 21 June in a special relaxation of the Navy's "no-alcohol-on-board-ship" policy. By 26 July, the political upheaval in the Middle East had relaxed sufficiently to permit the alert status to be increased to 72 hours, and the remaining three ships set course for Naples on 26 July. Before the ships left, two UH-1N helicopters from HMM-261, their crews, and maintenance personnel, were flown to the aircraft carrier Independence (CV 62), where they would continue to transport Habib and Draper.

Earlier, when the two diplomats had been flown to and from the Guam, they kept Commodore White and Colonel Mead, and their staffs, abreast of events and decisions then underway. Colonel Mead recalled:

In these discussions, Ambassador Habib and Mr. Draper were most candid with us concerning the progress of peace negotiations. Integral to all their plans and options was the use of our team afloat and ashore.

The discussions . . . focused on utilizing 32d MAU in the roles of disengagement; disarming; destruction of weapons; and assembling, processing, and transport/escort of PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). The obvious concerns of inserting some portion of the 32d MAU between 30,000 Israelis and 15,000 PLO and Syrian fighters were well recognized.15

While the MAU and the Phibron remained ready in Naples to conduct contingency operations, whatever and wherever they might be, Ambassador Habib continued his shuttle diplomacy between Tel Aviv and Beirut, ". . . seeking a political solution that ultimately required some multi-national force involvement."16

Photo courtesy of Co Robert B. Johnston, USMC
Col James T. Sehulster (left), EUCOM liaison officer to Ambassador Habib, and LtCol Robert B. Johnston, Battalion Landing Team 2/8, 32d Marine Amphibious Unit commander, in front of the U.S. ambassador's residence in Yarze, east Beirut, in August 1982.

Ambassador Habib requested that General Bernard W. Rogers, then Commander in Chief, U.S. Forces, Europe (USCinCEur), provide him with a military liaison team, preferably made up of French-speaking officers, to arrive in Beirut no later than 7 August to assist and advise him with respect to military matters. Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Johnston, command of BLT 2/8, was designated the 32d MAU representative, because he was fluent in French, ". . . and while I was a little rusty, I certainly could understand everything and could speak reasonably well. That, plus the fact that I was the BLT commander, a ground officer, really, almost made me the perfect candidate to go in what was called the Habib Mission."17 Coincidentally, the two representatives General Rogers ordered to Beirut from his headquarters were both Marine officers--Colonel James T. Sehulster, who was to be the liaison team chief, and Lieutenant Colonel Edmond . Baucher, Jr., like Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, fluent in French. Together with Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, the team was to undertake the following:

(1) Provide liaison between Special Envoy Habib, USEUCOM Hq, and the operating forces in planning for executing the deployment of U.S. forces of no larger than battalion size to assist the LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces), and possibly forces from other nations in the Beirut area, after the evacuation of PLO combatants was well underway.

(2) Advise Special Envoy Habib on the feasibility of military operations and employment of U.S. forces. [In this regard the team provided full, straightforward advice to Mr. Habib, but had no inherent decision making authority. Every proposed military tasking was released to Hq EUCOM and passed, as required, to higher authority for decision.]

(3) Establish direct, secure voice communications with Hq EUCOM and the operating forces.


(4) Provide daily situation reports and updates to Hq EUCOM.

(5) Perform such tasks as directed by Hq EUCOM.18

Lieutenant Colonel Johnston was briefed in Naples on 6 August and left the same day with the rest of the EUCOM team for the Forrestal, then steaming off the coast of Beirut. The next day the Marines were flown to Juniyah instead of Beirut, because the latter was still under Israeli fire. They were met by the resident defense attache in Beirut, Marine Colonel Winchell M. Craig, Jr., who suggested that the liaison team wear civilian clothes instead of uniforms because of a potential sensitivity to a foreign military presence that early in the planing.19 The team was also required to return each night to the Forrestal. As the team returned by helicopter on the evening of the 7th, it was buzzed by two Israeli F-16s, in response to which the United States lodged an official protest. It was to be the first of a number of confrontations the Marines were to have with the Israelis. As Lieutenant Colonel Johnston recalled, "I thought quite frankly the pilots were hotdogging, but as you know, a jet just by [its] sound and speed can blow a helicopter out of the air without shooting at it. So it was of some consequence, I suppose."20

When the team landed the next day it was met by an Israeli colonel who refused to permit the Marines to continue on to Beirut until they identified themselves and stated what the purpose of their trip was. Colonel Craig protested. "And after about 20 minutes, [we] gave them our name, rank, and serial number and indicated simply that we were there to provide support to Ambassador Habib."21 About 45 minutes later, the team was allowed to continue on its way. During the ensuing days, Ambassador Habib quickly established the organization of the political and military committee, which was to exist for the following two weeks and prior to the entry into Lebanon of a multi-national force. On the military side, there were to be U.S., French, and Italian liaison teams. They did not work independently, but met every day--often more than once a day--in a group session chaired by Ambassador Habib. they discussed the political negotiations concerning the plans for evacuating the

Members of the Military and Political Committees pose before their meeting with Special Envoy Habib in August 1982: 1) American Ambassador Morris Draper; 2) French BGen Jacques Granger; 3) Italian Ambassador Franco Olitteri; 4) U.S. Special Envoy Philip C. Habib; 5) Col James T. Sehulster, USMC; 6) French ambassador Paul Henri; 7) LtCol Edmund D. Baucher, Jr., USMC; and 8) LtCol Chares R. Smith, Jr., USMC.

Photo courtesy Col James T. Sehulster, USMC


PLO by sea and/or/ land, and considered the kind of options that were available.22

At the end of each day's meetings, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston briefed Commodore White and Colonel Mead by radio message to keep them fully abreast of what was transpiring in the meetings and how the Phibron and the MAU would potentially be employed in the anticipated withdrawal of the PLO. Lieutenant Colonel Johnston's report also concerned the diplomatic side of the discussions and alerted his superiors to the mission statement that was being prepared by Ambassador Habib, French Ambassador Paul Henri, and Italian Ambassador Franco Olitteri.

The U.S. mission, as it finally evolved after many days of discussion in the military committee, as well as with the government of Lebanon, was to:

Support Ambassador Habib and the MNF committee in their efforts to have PLO members evacuated from the Beirut area; occupy and secure the port of Beirut in conjunction with the Lebanese Armed Forces; maintain close and continuous contact with other MNF members; and be prepared to withdraw on order.23

In Naples, the MAU and the Phibron remained on a 72-hour alert as the discussions in Beirut continued. The MAU headquarters also conducted naval gunfire support and close air support communications exercises with respective elements of the Sixth Fleet tasked to provide those missions. At the same time, the BLT trained in fire support coordination and emergency evacuation procedures. HMM-261 conducted gunnery shoots with its Cobras, and technical training for its avionics and corrosion control personnel. And Marines would not be Marines if they didn't participate in physical training daily. As Colonel Mead commented, "Marines and sailors continue to work together in a team spirit that is enhanced by imminent mission."24

On 16 August, the Sixth Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Rowden, ordered the Phibron to a designated location off the coast of Lebanon, prepared to land embarked Marines on order, perhaps as early as 20 August, as part of the Multi-National Force (MNF). On being given 20 August as the possible L-Day, Commodore White ". . . requested both a mobile medical augmentation team (an eight-man team which would provide . . . care for surgical emergencies) and a nine-man Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit to assist with field sanitation."25

At the same time, Colonel Mead asked FMFLant to augment the MAU with interrogators/translators, ANGLICO (Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company)_ teams, and additional intelligence personnel. All of these elements reported to the MAU within 36 hours after having been requested.26

The military committee concluded that the French would go into Beirut first and that the Americans would land only when Ambassador Habib was satisfied that the evacuation was proceeding well and smoothly. The Italians were scheduled to land the day after the Americans. An arbitrary ceiling had been established by Ambassador Habib for the size of the force to be employed--800 French, 800 Americans, and 400 Italians.27

Mead and Johnston accommodated to the 800-man ceiling by brining in, primarily, the rifle companies and the battalion headquarters, and some elements of the MAU headquarters.28

The plan called for elements of the Multi-National Force and the Lebanese Armed Forces to be located together at points between the Syrians and the PLO forces in west Beirut, and the Israeli and Lebanese Christian Phalangists deployed in east Beirut. All governments and parties to the plan had agreed to support it, which led ultimately to its successful culmination with but few hitches.

The scheduled day of the landing was slipped because of the inability of the diplomats to achieve a complete ceasefire in Beirut. On 21 August, Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Smith, Jr., 32d MAU executive officer, was flowing from the Guam to Juniyah to relieve Lieutenant COlonel Johnston, who returned to the Guam the next day, where he resumed command of his BLT. Before leaving Beirut, Lieutenant Colonels Johnston and Smith reconnoitered the port area where the Marines were to be deployed. They selected possible helicopter landing zones, and concluded, based on their observations, that a surface landing of the MAU could be conducted as planned. Upon reaching the Guam on the 22d, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston briefed Admiral Rowden, Commodore White, and Colonel Mead, and their staffs.29

With H-Hour and L-Day set at 0500 on 25 August, the MAU began final intensive training in such matters as field sanitation, crowd control, and relations with the media, all of which were to be of great concern in the coming days. Field sanitation was especially important in view of the large number of cases of dysentery suffered in the 1958 landing. Because the MAU was landing in Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission in a permissive environment--i.e., one which was not hostile--Colonel Mead decided he would not need his tanks, his artillery, or his attack helicopters ashore


at this time. The squadron's transport and utility helicopters would be employed for logistical support.

On the 24th, an advance party from the MAU headquarters flew into the port to reconnoiter the area and to meet with the French, whom the Americans were to relieve. Later that day, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston and is company commanders also conducted a reconnaissance of the port area. That same day, two messages were sent to Colonel Mead on the Guam, and relayed to all hands over the loudspeakers of all ships in the Phibron. The first was from Commandant of the Marine Corps Gedneral Robert H. Barrow, which read:

Personal for Colonel mead from General Barrow:

Please convey the following message to all 32d MAU Marines. You will soon be engaged in carrying out an extremely important mission in Beirut. Clearly, it is also a most difficult and delicate one. Your soldierly virtues, especially discipline, will in all likelihood be severely tested.

At this critical hour you will serve as the primary instrument of our national will to further the course of peace in that troubled region.

As Marines you will meet the challenge and acquit yourselves, not only honorably, but with distinction. The eyes of your countrymen will be on you as surely as their hearts are with you. Beyond that, speaking for myself and your fellow Marines, be assured we have every confidence that as professionals you will superbly represent our Corps and country.

The second message was from President Reagan:

You are about to embark on a mission of great importance to our nation and the free world. The conditions under which you carry out your vital assignment are, I know, demanding and potentially dangerous. you are tasked to be once again what Marines have been for more than 200 years--peace-makers.

Your role in the Multinational Force--along with that of your French and Italian counterparts--is crucial to achiving the peace that is so odesperately needed in this long-tortured city.

I expect that you will perform with the tradiitional esprit and discipline for which the Marine Corps is renowned. Godspeed. Ronald Reagan.

At 0500 on the 25th, the first LCU landed at the port of Beirut and Captain kenneth T. McCabe's Company E (Reinforced) marched ashore with the MAU colors flying, to be met by a large press contingent, as well as by Ambassador Habib; U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Robert S. Dillon; the French and Italian ambassadors; the Levbanese Armed Forces' commander, Lieutenant General Victor Khoury; and a host of other dignitaries. Twenthy-two minutes later, Captain Richard C. Zilmer's Company F (Reinforced) landed.

At 0600, French Brigadier General jacques Granger officially turned the port area over to the Marines. On the way in, Colonel Mead noticed the French tricolor

32d Marine Amphibious Unit Marines remain alert while manning a checkpoint during their supervision of the evacuation of the PLO from the port of Beirut in late August 1982.

U.S. Navy Photo by PH3 R. P. Fitzgerald


Figure 2: Tactical dispositions of 32d MAU after initial landing at Beirut Port 25 August 1982.


Copyright 1983. Richard Allison. The Army Times Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission.

flying over the port, and ". . . as soon as we relived the French . . . the first thing we did was strike their flag and run up the Lebanese flag,"30 an act that was immediately noticed by the Lebanese and commented upon favorably in the Arab-language press. By 0730, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston had relieved his French Foreign Legion counterpart and accepted command of the port area and all checkpoints therein.31

Surrounding the area the MAU occupied was a high fence approximately two kilometers long. Captain McCabe's company was ordered to man strongpoints in the western half of the Marine area, while Company F was similarly deployed in the eastern portion. Captain Alfred J. Karle, Jr., and his Company G were assigned to internal security and to provide a reserve force (See (a href=fig/USMC-Lebanon82-2.jpg target=mapwindow>Figure 2). Meanwhile, the headquarters elements of the MAU and the MAU Service Support Group were set up ashore, while the squadron remained on board the Guam.

After Company E landed, Captain mcCabe inspected his lines and checkpoints, and noted that everybody was settled in and doing a fine job.32 McCabe tasked his company gunnery sergeant with finding a building for use as company headquarters, which, not too coincidentally, turned out to be the same building the French had occupied. When the French command was relieved, it left one platoon behind at Checkpoint 54, the entrance to the port through which the PLO troops were evacuated.

The Greek ship Sol Georgious docked at 0915 that first morning and immediately began taking on board those who were to be evacuated by sea. The Marines checked a total of 1,066 PLO personnel that day. Before the evacuation ended, they were to pass a total of 6,436 Palestinians through their checkpoint.

The following report which Commodore White sent Admiral Rowden vividly describes the departure of the Palestinians from West Beirut:

My helicopter landed at Landing Zone [LZ] Barrow which is ideally located for ship-to-shore logistics. The LZ is controlled by a Marine team in a most efficient manner. I was met by Col Mead, who took me to the MAU Command Post [CP]. The CP is well set up in a small port office building. Communications are terminated in the building which makes for excellent command and control both among units ashore and with the flagship. The gist of the discussions with Col Mead was that all was well and operating effectively.

At approximately 1000, LtCol Johnston, BLT 2/8 commander,


Photo courtesy Maj Fred T. Lash, USMC (Ret)
Marines remain alert as members of the PLO, firing their weapons wildly into the air, leave Beirut headed for the port in trucks provided by the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Photo courtesy Maj Fred T. Lash, USMC (Ret)
32d MAU Marines and members of the French 2d Foreign Legion Airborne Battalion form a joint security guard during the evacuation of the PLO from Beirut, Lebanon.


took me in his command jeep to Checkpoint 54, the entrance to the port used by PLO evacuees. En route we passed at least two ships which had been sunk at the piers (time of sinking unknown). Checkpoint 54 looks out to an area which looks like pictures I haven of Berlin at the end of World War II. Looking up the street which leads into the checkpoint, I was greeted with the view of a PLO[ Syrian?] tank with its gun trained at us at a distance of about 700 yards. (Needless to say, I wore a helmet and body armor during this portion of the tour.) Very soon after my arrival, cars started arriving outside the checkpoint with PLO supporters. During this period the occasional small arms and automatic weapons fire began to increase in frequency and intensity. Shortly thereafter the first series of trucks carrying the PLO fighters came down the street to the accompaniment of gunfire, RPGs [rocket propelled grenades], etc. The fire (all directed skyward) came in some cases from the crowd, the trucks themselves, and for the most part, positions in the rubble I could not see. The trucks belong to the LAF and are driven by LAF drivers.

The trucks containing the PLO are allowed into the sandbagged checkpoint one at a time. They contained males, some females, and children as young as a year to two. There were boys as young as 12 or so dressed in fatigues and armed with automatic weapons. Once inside the checkpoint, the truck is given a very cursory inspection by a Lebanese official (in civilian clothes) along with an LAF officer. The U.S. Marine company commander is present at the truck. The street is blocked by a squad of Marines who also are positioned in and on buildings overlooking the checkpoint. I would estimate 15 LAF soldiers man the checkpoint. When the Lebanese official indicates to the Marine company commander that the truck inspection had been completed successfully, the Marine squad moves aside, and the truck proceeds through and rounds the corner out of sight to await another four truck loads. At this stage, the PLO have their automatic weapons and ammunition in their possession. LtCol Johnston led the first convoy of five trucks to the processing area on the pier. A lieutenant (with me along) led the second convoy. At the pier, the PLO are offloaded and processed through any one of about eight stations manned by the LAF. Processing appears to consist of taking names only. The evacuees then walk to the ship's sterngate (Sol Georgious in this case). They enter the vehicle side, leave their weapons and ammo (I could not see into the ships to observe this process). Upon completion, they proceeded up the ramp to the main deck which had awning-covered seats/benches for the trip. Both Marines and LAF are at the embarkation point. One altercation took place while I observed. A PLO fighter did not want to give up his weapon. LAF officers handled the situation forcefully (though not physically other than blocking his way) and well. I did not remain for the complete onload. The ship was underway about an hour after I left.

I can sum up my impressions by saying that the Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.33

The MAU went ashore armed with unloaded individual and crew-served weapons, for a deliberate decision was made to demonstrate that the Americans were on a peace-keeping mission. Additionally, they had to show that they trusted the Lebanese Armed Forces to maintain security. The absence of a single military commander in charge of the Multi-National Force created problems in coordination for the respective MNF commanders. This situation prevailed despite the fact that the French and Americans--and the Italians after they landed on 26 September--exchanged liaison teams.34

As an example of the confusion that existed, on several occasions the French and italian military convoys passed through the western port area at the same time PLO evacuation convoys were being escorted to the docks.35 Another problem which arose early was that of identifying friendly forces, as most of them, as well as the Lebanese Armed Forces, Israelis, and some of the PLO, like the Marines, wore camouflage utilities. The BLT later recommended that each force deployed to a similar type of operation be issued a contingency block of U.S. flags which could be flown on vehicles and "brassards with attached flag" to be worn by U.S. forces ashore.35

EUCOM peacetime rules of engagement dictated that the Marines were to carry unloaded weapon, although it does not take long to insert a magazine into a weapon and chamber a round. The rules also dictated that the on-the-scene commander had the right to determine what the appropriate response would be if there was a hostile act committed against Marines. primarily, it would be rifle against rifle, and the like. "The inherent right of self-defense prevailed."37 As far as Colonel Mead was concerned, the Marines were ". . . comfortable with our rules of engagement, which had been kept simple and therefore readily understandable."38

The living conditions in the Beirut port area were rudimentary at best. Most of the units lived in buildings which had been damaged six years earlier in the civil fighting of 1976, and never repaired. Being a port area, it was infested with many rats. The Navy preventative medicine unit worked full time to reduce the infestation, but it was a losing war. Potable water was not available, so it had to be brought in from Phibron shipping, which also provided fresh fruit and sandwiches to the Marines ashore, and thus added variety to their diet of C-rations.

While the Marines had instructions not to deal directly with the Israelis, the MAU operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis R. Blankenship, did have a hot line to the Israeli liaison officer who was situated in a 15-story structure, the Electric Building, which, through outside the port area, had very good observation of the evacuation proceedings.39

The Israelis frequently disrupted the evacuation


operation by blocking the port entrance, refusing entry to commercial shipping coming in to remove the PLO. Israeli gunboats often held the ships outside the port until noon. This created a backup of the PLO, which was being formed and organized in groups of 1,000 for the exodus, and shooting wildly into the air all the while. "The longer you held the, the greater potential for problems existed."40

During the entire course of the evacuation, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston was present at the dock, directing it.

I always made a point of standing right at the ship. I would actually bring the first group of truck, they had 17 vehicles in all, and they would come in groups of five into the checkpoint. When they were behind the checkpoint withiin the Marines' positions and we were sure that they had no contraband, RPGs, large weapons, my vehicle would guide them to the embarkation point and I stayed there and subsequent convoys came through. So, I was really standing thee observing every PLO go aboard the civilian ships.41

The highlight of the evacuation was the departure of PLO leader Yasser Arafat from Beirut. There was some question of whether he was going by air or by ship, and given the potential volatility of the situation, exactly when and how he was to depart was very closely held. On 29 August, the day before he was to leave from the port, the Marines were informed of his impending departure. Accordingly, on the 30th at 0500, the BLT made a final security sweep. By 1000, the Atlantis, the ship that was to carry him out, had docked and was ready for Arafat's scheduled appearance at 1100.

According to the plan, he was to be driven to Checkpoint 54 by car, instead of by truck, and from there escorted by the Marines to the evacuation point, about 3/4thhs of a mile away. Although his time of departure was supposed to have been a secret, by 1000 a large crowd of media, well-wishers, and hundreds of PLO dependents were on hand to witness the departure. When he neared the checkpoint, Arafat got out of his car to accept the flags of several of his PLO units. His entourage was ". . . led in by the French ambassador, Paul Henri, and a contingent of French troops with armored carriers; a truck full of troops, and they jumped out on their side of the checkpoint as though they were protecting him and making sure there were no snipers."42 Lieutenant Colonel Johnston stood in front of the checkpoint, preventing the entourage from proceeding further, and had fairly lengthy discussion with Henri, asking him why he thought the French troops were needed when there were 800 Marines present who were perfectly capable of seeing Arafat to the ship that was waiting for him. Ambassador Henri replied that Ambassador Draper had agreed to the presence of French troops at the evacuation. Johnston then spoke to Draper over his walkie-talkie, saying that he knew nothing of this agreement and that the excessive number of French forces were creating a problem.43

It appeared to Lieutenant Colonel Johnston that the

Photo courtesy Maj Fred T. Lash, USMC (Ret)
Surrounded by reporters and his security guards, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, joins 32d Marine Amphibious Unite Marines in dining al fresco on C-rations.


French were providing a Arafat a guard of honor in the midst of a highly combustible situation.

Present at this confrontation in addition to Johnston was Colonel Mead, Captain McCabe, and a squad of Marines, plus a second squad, all whom physically pushed the crowd back. A concession was made to let some of the French vehicles through, but the Marines were determined that the French ". . . were not going to lead Arafat . . ." into the port area.44

Arafat's vehicle entered the port area first, escorted by about 25 PLO bodyguards, all of whom appeared concerned that they were going to relinquish protection of their chief to the Marines. The PLO slapped their rifles and made threatening gestures to the Marines, and actually attempted to push themselves through the Marine checkpoint. The Marines in turn pushed the bodyguards back. Adding to the tension was an accidental discharge by one of the French troops. Fortunately nothing happened.

Observing the evacuation operation at the port was Colonel Craig, who sen the following message to the Commandant:

I was on hand today at the checkpoint manned by Echo Company, 8th Marines. When Arafat came through enroute to his departure, they handled themselves with a coolness and professionalism that I have seldom seen in my nearly 30 years' experience. They were calm under the pressures of a situation that could have been a disaster. Confrontation occurred with the French as well as a mob of Palestinian admirers of Arafat, most of them armed and excited. The resulting peaceful solution was a credit to Captain McCabe, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, and MAU commander, Colonel Mead.

It was evident in my hour-long visit that officers and NCOs knew what they were doing and were able to convey their intent to the Marines in their charge. The troops were disciplined and responded smartly. At no time did I see any marine behaving in any manner but with full concentration on the tactical situation at hand. They were a credit to their country and their Corps.45

After this, the evacuation operation continued on pro forma with the Marines maintaining port security. By 3 September, Colonel noted a significant change in the atmosphere. In Beirut, the lights were on again at night with restoration of the city's power plant. There was increased traffic in the streets, shops were reopening, and the Lebanese were seen repairing damaged buildings and cleaning up the rubble. As of the 3d, all PLO and Syrians had been evacuated and the Marines began to be visited by such luminaries as Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Senator Charles H. Percy, and Congressmen Edward J. Derwinski and Stephen J. Solarz, as well as the Embassy's new Deputy Chief of Mission, Robert L. Pugh, a former Marine.

There was much work for the MSSG, as it began repairing vehicles and doing preventive maintenance on them, purifying water, and providing other logistical services, such as distributing rations. The squadron was also kept busy flying Ambassador Habib and his associates on "shuttle diplomacy" missions as well as ferrying visiting VIPs from ship to shore and back, and from either ship or shore to Larnaca.

Initially, the MAU staff thought that once its port security assignment was completed, it would man checkpoints on the Green Line, which geographically and historically separated Muslim west Beirut from Christian east Beirut and ran south to a point below the port area. Lieutenant Colonel Johnston and his BLT 2/8 staff visited the checkpoints they thought they would have to man. However, this mission never materialized and the MAU remained in the port enclave until it began reloading on board Phibron shipping on 9 September.

in their after-action reports of this evacuation operation, Colonel Mead and his subordinate commanders made a number of recommendations and noted several lessons learned. Notable was the assertion that, "The operation was distinctively unique from virtually any point of view. Most significant, from a military vantage point, was the fact that military forces from the United States, France, Italy, LEbanon, Syria, and Israel, as well as the PLO forces themselves, cooperated in the relatively small geographic area of Beirut, without the benefit of a Combined or United Command Military Headquarters to direct the operation.46

The MAU found that augmentation personnel, who were flown to Beirut upon request of Colonel Mead and Commodore White, often arrived without their personal records and personal field equipment, such as helmets, web gear, weapons, and the like. Additionally, in response to a request for essential elements of information required by the MAU commander to prepare his estimate of the situation ashore, Colonel Mead was given very little tactical intelligence concerning the location of sites of weapons which might have placed indirect fire on the Marines had the permissive environment in Beirut changed. Accordingly, Colonel Mead recommended that, should the MAU face a similar deployment ashore, it should be provided with accurate and timely target intelligence.47

Commenting on BLT operations, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston noted that his planning process was greatly hampered by the lack of a current port and


Beautiful Martyr Square, in west Beirut, before 1976.

Photo courtesy Lt Paul E. L. Holdom, Royal Marines
Martyr Square in 1983.Marines of 24th MAU began patrolling in the ruins here on 4 November 1982.


32d MAU Marines board their LST on 10 September 1982 following the PLO evacuation from Beirut.

beach study for Beirut.48 He also noted that his BLT Marines conducted the entire evacuation operation without inserting magazines or chambering rounds, and there were no accidental discharges. However, he also reported that, "During critical periods, selected marksmen had magazines inserted, rounds chambered, and were ready to engage any threat."49 Lieutenant Colonel Johnston commented favorably on the enthusiastic support and cooperation of the Phibron and its beachmasters in supported the Marines ashore with such services as regular mail, laundry, bag lunches, fresh fruit, pay call, and religious services. Finally, the BLT commander remarked that the success of his BLT benefitted from the fact that half of his troops were on a second Mediterranean deployment.50

Lieutenant Colonel Geske's squadron played in important role in the operation, providing logistical support to the MAU, to the Phibron, and to the diplomatic mission in flying its various members about the Middle East. In addition, the Cobras were kept on standby in case they were needed for close-in fire support. Later, CH-53s and CH-46s often had to make overwater logistic support flights of up to 150 miles one way, generally to Larnaca. These flights were conducted safely, supported by shipboard radar on board the large carriers located below the horizon at a distance from Beirut, and guided by E-2C airborne control aircraft.51

The success of the MAU was further recognized on 10 September, when both the President and the Secretary of Defense telephoned Colonel Mead to compliment him on the performance of the Marines as part of the Multi-National Force.52 Said Colonel Mead after these calls, "only then did it dawn on me that I had received only three orders during the whole operation. There were to go in, to stay off the Green Line, and to come out!"53

After having withstood the pressures of international attention, the MAU Marines and the Phibron sailors exhibited a certain air of self-satisfaction for a job well done as they sailed from Beirut on 10 September. They could not be faulted. Nor, at this time, could they anticipate that they would be revisiting Beirut shortly.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)


[1] For a more comprehensive account of the 1958 deployments, see Jack Shulimson, Marines in Lebanon, 1958 (Washington: History and Museums Division, HQMC (rev. 1983), and BGen Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret), The United States Marines: The First Two Hundred Years, 1775-1975 (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), pp. 255-57.

[2] The Phibron would become the Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group (MARG) once it passed from the operational control of the Second Fleet to the Sixth Fleet.

[3] 32d MAU Situation Report No. 7, for the period 22-28May 82, dtd 29May82 (Archives, MCHC, Washington, D.C.), hereafter 32d MAU SitRep, with number and date. See Appendix B for the task organization for each MAU deployed to Lebanon. Unless otherwise noted, all official documentation is located in the Archives, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., and the interviews in the Oral History Collection in the same place. Similarly, the Command Chronologies (ComdC) of the MAUs are held in the Archives.

[4] Captain White wore two hats--one as the commodore of Phibron 4, the second as Commander, Task Force 61 (CTF 61). Similarly, Colonel MEad was two-hatted--Commanding Officer, 32d MAU, and CTF 62. The chain of command ascended from CTF 62 up through CTF 61; to Commander, Sixth Fleet; to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe (CinCUSNavEur); to Commander, in Chief, U.S. Forces, Europe (CinCEur); to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington.

[*] To identify them more clearly as units of II Marine Amphibious Force, the 32d and 34th MAUs were later redesignated 22d and 24th MAUs, respectively. For the 34th MAU, the redesignation took place on 7 July 1982 at Camp Lejeune when it reverted from operational control of the Commander, Sixth Fleet to that of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet/Commander, Second Fleet (CinCLantFlt/2d Flt) and then to Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic (FMFLant), as noted in the 24th MAU SitRep No. , dtd 12Jul82. Because it was an element of the Sixth Fleet in July, the 32d MAU did not become the 22d MAU until 1 December, when it was in Camp Lejeune and once again under FMFLant control. SImply put, FMFLant had administrative control of the MAUs while the numbered fleets had operational control.

[5] Coll James M. Mead, "The Lebanon Experience," Marine Corps Gazette, Feb82, p. 30, hereafter Mead, Lebanon.

[6] 32d MAU SitRep, No. 9, dtd 12Jun82.

[7] 32d M ComdC, Jun82.

[8] 32d MAU SitRep, No. 9, dtd 12Jun82.

[9] Mead, Lebanon, p. 31. This is a classified tactical situation booklet concerning noncombatant evacuation operations among other matters, and published by FMFLant.

[10] LtCol Dennis R. Blankenship intvw, 12Jan83, p. 5, hereafter Blankenship intvw. The articles referred to are Col Sydney H. Batchelder, Jr., and Major David A. Quinlan, "Operation Eagle Pull," Marine Corps Gazette, May 76, and BGen Richard E. Cary and Maj David A. Quinlan, "Frequent Wind," Marine Corps Gazette, Feb, Mar, and Apr76.

[11] Blankenship intvw, p. 6.

[12] Maj William H. Barnetson intvw, 12Jan83, p. 11, hereafter Barnetson intvw. The MSSG ran the Evacuation Control Center on the Hermitage, while BLT 2/8 ran the one n the Nashville. All similarly deployed MSSGs have been trained to conduct these operations when so ordered.

[13] Blankenship intvw, p. 10.

[14] Mead, Lebanon, p. 31.

[15] Ibid., pp. 32-33.

[16] LtCol Robert B. Johnston intvw, pp. 1-2, dtd 13Jan83, hereafter Johnston intvw.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Sec III, 32d MAU AAR for Beirut, Lebanon Evacuation Operations, 16Aug-10Sep82, dtd 15Sep82, p. 2, hereafter 32d MAU AAR, Sep82.

[19] Johnston intvw, p. 3.

[20] Ibid., p. 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., p. 5.

[23] Mead, Lebanon, p. 33.

[24] 32 MAU SitRep, No. 19, dtd 22Aug82.

[25] Mead, Lebanon, p. 33.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Johnston intvw, p. 13.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Sec II, 32d MAU AAR, Sep82, p. 8; 32 MAU ComdC, Aug82.

[30] Blankenship intvw, p. 21.

[31] Johnston intvw, p. 14.

[32] Capt Kenneth T. McCabe intvw, dtd 14Jan83, p. 32, hereafter McCabe intvw.

[33] Quoted in Mead, Lebanon, p. 36.

[34] After the Italians landed and moved to positions in southern Beirut, near Galerie Semaan, they were augmented by Marine ANGLICO and liaison teams. 32d MAU Comd Aug 82.

[35] BLT 2/8 Initial AAR, encl 1 to 32d MAU AAR, Sep82, p. 4.

[36] Ibid., p. 5. Plastic flags to be flown from vehicles' antennae were soon received by the MAU, but they did not hold up well. Later FMFLant authorized the wearing of American flag patches on the left shoulder of both flight suits and camouflage utilities. The wearing of the patch by members of the U.S. Multi-National Forces was for operational identification purposes only, and FMFLANT considered that the patch was just one more visible means to enhance the MAU as "presence force." The flag patch also identified the Marines as Americans when conducting joint patrols with the Lebanese and especially in the event of boundary/zone disputes. Each Marine in the MAU was issued three patches to be sewn on his untilities and/or flight suits. These were to be removed upon completion of his deployment to Lebanon. CG FMFLant msg to CMC, dtd 24May83.

[37] Maj Jack L. Farmer comments, 13Feb84.

[38] Mead, Lebanon, p. 37.

[39] Blankenship intvw, p. 23.

[40] Johnston intvw, p. 16.

[41] Ibid., p. 17.

[42] Ibid., p. 18.

[43] Ibid., p. 19.

[44] Ibid.

[45] U.S. Defense Attache, Beirut, msg to CMC, dtd 30Aug82.

[46] Sec III, p. 1. 32d MAU AAR, Sep82.

[47] Sec IV, pp. 1-3, Ibid.

[48] BLT 2/8 Initial AAR, p. 4, in 32d MAU AAR, Sep82.

[49] Ibid., p. 5.

[50] Ibid., p. 6

[51] HMM-261 AAR, p. 2, in 32d MAU AAR, Sep82.

[52] 32d MAU ComdC, Sep82.

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