Chapter 4:
Beirut III--An Expanded Experience
1 November 1982-15 February 1983

Since 1948 in the post-World War II era, Marines have been in the Mediterranean in at least battalion strength. Then, during a crisis in Greece, President Harry S Truman ordered the 8th Marines, at one-battalion strength, to join the Sixth Fleet as its landing force. In recent years, with the establishment of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) concept, Marine Amphibious Units--each comprised of a MAU headquarters, a battalion landing team (BLT), [reinforced infantry battalion[, a composite helicopter squadron, and a service support group--have acted as the Sixth Fleet's permanent landing force. The presence of the MAU in the Mediterranean gave it an opportunity to conduct amphibious landing exercises with with similar units representing NATO allies situated on the Mediterranean littoral. In addition, the MAUs participated in extensive NATO exercises in the northern tier, e.g., in Norway and Denmark, where Marines figure in NATO contingency plans.

The MAUs were generally deployed for six months at a time. While squadron and BLTs would change for each deployment, with the rotation of units, however, it was conceivable that a MAU could begin its second and succeeding deployment, or "pump" as they were called, within a year and a half of its last one. When Colonel Stokes' 24th MAU left Morehead City on 24 August 1982, 40 to 50 percent of his Marines were veterans of earlier Mediterranean deployments.

Before the BLTs and helicopter squadrons joined the MAU and then went aboard their assigned Phibron shipping for pre-deployment exercises, they had already spend approximately six months training separately at first and then together as a MAGTF. When a MAU finally departed for its semi-annual deployment, its units had been tested and were certified to be fully capable of conducting amphious operations and other tasks they might encounter during their Mediterranean duty. By the time a BLT and a helicopter squadron returned from a six-month deployment, during which time they had conducted at least one amphibious landing exercise per month with forces of other nations, they rated among the best-trained and most combat-ready units of their kind in the Marine Corps.

Colonel Stokes' 24th MAU was comprised of BLT 3/8 (Lieutenant Colonel John B. "Black Jack" Matthews), HMM-263 (Lieutenant Colonel William H. Barnes, Jr.), and MSSG 24 (Major David N. Buckner). Its strength was 1,929 Marines and 108 Navy. When the MAU arrived in Beirut, it was reinforced by 183 augmentees who had been previously attached to the 32d MAU.

The 24gth MAU left the States on schedule. Since it had returned from its previous January-June 1982 deployment o 29 June,k it experienced a short turn-around. The Marines were embarked on the ships of Amphibious Squadron 6, Commodore Vernon C. Smith (Captain, USN) commanding. The Phibron consisted of its flagship, the Inchon (LPH 12), the Shreveport (LPD 12), the Fort Snelling (LSD 30), the La Moure County (LST 1194), and the Sumter (LST 1181). The flotilla headed directly for its commitment, participation in NATO Exercises North Wedding and Bold Guard (East) in Scandinavia.

After the landings in the north, the MAU was scheduled to make port visits in Ireland, Holland, and Portugal before entering the Mediterranean to relive the 32d MAU. However, as the 24th left Lolland, Denmark, it received word that these port visits were cancelled and that it would replace the 32d in Exercise Display Determination, a major NATO exercise on the southern flank of the NATO countries.1 The MARG steamed south for the Mediterranean, where it came under the operational control of the Sixth Fleet on 30 September.2

Colonel Stokes was not unacquainted with the Lebanon situation, for all during his January-June 1982 float, his 34th MAU had been continually updating its intelligence and general information on Beirut, ready to undertake one of two, at that time plausible, missions: either ". . . to evacuate U.S. nationals in the embassy or reinforce the embassy."3

During the trip to Denmark and then later to Beirut, the BLT and squadron continuously conducted training when they were not involved in the landing exercise. The MAU intelligence section monitored incoming intelligence summaries and reports, and in turn conducted counterintelligence briefings that generally concentrated on terrorist activities. In addition, MAU S-2 personnel briefed the individual rifle companies and the MAU, BLT, MSSG, and squadron headquarters staffs on the situation in Lebanon, and


USMC photo
An exploded car-bomb littering the beach highway below Beirut unceremonially greeted the arrival in Lebanon of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit in November 1982.

screened MAU personnel to identify French- and Italian-speaking Marines to be used as interpreters. With the eventual landing in Beirut in mind, each of the MAU commanders checked to see that their troops and equipment were ready.

On 11 October, the MAU/Phibron completed re-embarkation from Saros Bay, Turkey, after completion of Exercise Display Determination 82, and headed for a port visit to Naples. Concurrently, key 24th MAU staff and command personnel made a liaison visit to Beirut. An advance party flew from Naples to Beirut on 26 October, the same day that the Phibron left, to prepare for the relief of the 32d MAU. At this point, Colonel Stokes briefed his officers and staff non-commissioned officers in depth about the politico-military factions in Lebanon, rules of engagement, and standards of conduct for Marines in Beirut. Then the remainder of the Marines received a similar briefing.

As noted earlier, the relief took place in Beirut on 1 November. Under normal conditions, MAU reliefs in the Mediterranean were conducted at Rota, Spain. These were not tactical reliefs, but merely staff and organizational briefing, where ". . . you turn over certain contingency packages, maps, and Sixth Fleet plans, and then I salute Admiral Rowden and say, 'I'm ready to take over,' and Jim Mead says, 'I'm prepared to be relieved,' and then he would sail on or vice versa."4

Since this was not to be the case this time, Colonel Stokes prepared a landing plan wherein he would relieve the 32d's three line companies in helicopter-borne and over-the-beach landings and then he:

. . . placed the requirement ot have a mortar and anti-tank capability on the beach before--and my communications with the Navy and with the adjacent multinational force commands--I required those nets to be set up and that force to be on the ground before I said, 'I'm ready to relieve you as Commander, U.S. Forces Ashore, Lebanon.'5

The relief went quite smoothly and all elements of the 24th MAU quickly established a firm work routine ashore. At 1115 this first day in Lebanon, the reality of Beirut was brought to the newly arrived Marines when an automobile car bomb exploded in the vicinity of the entrance to Green Beach. No faction claimed credit for the explosion nor was it ever discovered who did it.

On the 2d, Assistant Secretary of Defense Francis J. West, Jr., a former Marine, visited the 24th MAU headquarters to become the first of the VIP's to take the Beirut tour subsequent to the departure of the 32d


MAU. He was followed on the 5th by Congressmen John P. Murtha, Robert L. Livingston, and Nick J. Rohall. It soon became apparent to this and successive MAUs in Lebanon that a protocol officer would have to be appointed to meet the important visitors and guide them around, and that a command briefing would have to be developed. Vice Admiral Rowden also visited the Marines on 5 November. Two days later, Brigadier General Andrew W. Cooley, JCS representative to Ambassador Draper, visited the MAU. On 10 November, the 207th Marine Corps Birthday was breated in the field with traditional marine Corps spirit; Ambassador Dillon was the honored guest. "Thru the combined effort of BLT 3/8 and USS Inchon food services personnel, over 1,400 sailors and Marines enjoyed an appropriate feast with which to celebrate the birthday."6

Photo courtesy of Col Thomas M. Stokes, Jr., USMC (Ret)
Col Thomas M. Stokes, Jr., 24th MAU commander, is seen with Col Elias Khalil, Lebanese liaison officer.

Members of the staffs of Senators Paul Laxalt and Howard H. Barker, Jr., visited the Marines on 20 November, while three days later, U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Raymond C. Ewing arrived at the MAU headquarters. On 25 November, Colonel Stokes and his staff hosted JCS Chairman General John W. Vessey, Jr., who was accompanied by Admiral Rowden.

The MAU's mission was expanded on 1 November, when the Secretary of Defense approved the conduct of daylight motorized patrols, first to east Beirut and then in Baabda, and foot patrols later in Yarze. These

USMC Photo by Sgt Christopher Grey
Seemingly oblivious of the American presence,, Lebanese civilians go about their business as Marines of the 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company K, BLT 3/8, conduct their first patrol in Hay es Salaam ("Hooterville"), outside of the Beirut Airport in December 1982.


USMC Photo
HMM-263 headquarters ashore at LZ Rockpile at the north end of Beirut Airport.

patrols began on 4 November after extensive planning and conversations between the U.S., French and Italian MNF offs, and Lebanese military authorities, who helped establish routes and timing of the patrols.7 The first patrol consisted of four jeeps with machine guns mounted. Two jeeps went out first, followed five minutes later by two more. The patrol had ". . . 160s [radio set AN/GRC-160], thereby having the ability fo talk inter-patrol on the VHF [net] and we used an HF net to talk back to the BLT and the MAU."8 A total of 15 Marines and a Lebanese liaison officer, acting as an interpreter, went on the patrol. Continuous communications between the patrol and the MAU headquarters were facilitated by the use of an automatic retransmitting station, airborne in a HMM-262 helicopter with a back-up manual retransmitting station at the Presidential Palace. The first patrol went out for two and a half hours on the afternoon of the 4th, the second went our for two hours the next mining. Both returned without incident.

Thereafter, patrols went out daily. By the end of November, 30 patrols had been successfully conducted. With JCS approval, the patrol routes had been expanded to cover northeast Beirut. Aside from the military aspects of these patrols, there was another dividend, and that was one of giving the Marines a feeling that they were doing something historic, that ". . . they contributed . . . to the stability of the Beirut area and . . . to world history as Marines."9

During November, the 24th's intelligence section was augmented with the arrival of detachments from the Sensor Control and Management Platoon (SCAMP) and interrogator/translators from the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune. This combination of human intelligence (HUMINT) and sensor assets was employed to provide adjacent, subordinate, and higher commands with a good variety of intelligence information. Colonel Stokes noted that ". . . this full-scale intelligence collection and dissemination program has satisfied the commander's essential elements of information and other concerns in the 24th MAU area of responsibility."10

The character and nature of the 24th MAU's tour in Lebanon was different from the 32d's--as a matter of fact, the tours of each of the MAU's differed from the others considerably, usually in four areas: weather, training emphasis; relationship with other forces in the area; and finally, the nature of the fighting in the


surrounding area. The weather which had been at first warm, then hot, when the 32d's Marines arrived, had become pleasantly fall-like when the 24th first came in and then became cold and wet in the succeeding winter months. The surf at Green (Black) Beach got quite heavy during the winter, and seriously disrupted over-the-beach supply operations. HMM-263 helicopters took up the slack by flying in needed supplies from shipboard to the landing zones and the beach and in the MAU perimeter. Despite the weather, however, the helicopters were able to fly in two hot meals a day from Phibron shipping.11

At first, the MAU had begun a limited training program with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Then on 11 November, in response to a request from the Government of Lebanon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed that the Marines begin training a Lebanese Army rapid reaction force. The training would be conducted only if it did not interfere with the Marines' basic mission. On the 12th, the MAU provided a training plan for approval by higher echelons, gaining that approval on the 30th. Ground units and air crews to be trained were designated by the Lebanese government. Training began on 13 December.

The initial training was conducted in three one-week phases. Phase I consisted of training in general military skills and physical training, and an orientation briefing on Marine Corps weapons and equipment. The second phase consisted of helicopter orientation, live firing exercises, an overview of amphibious operations, a visit to Phibron 6 amphibious ships, and instruction in anti-mechanized operations. Phase III training consisted of planning for helicopter-lifted assaults and extractions. Paralleling this instruction was training given to Lebanese air crews in all aspects of helicopter assault support. Phase III ended on 7 January with a demonstration of a vertical assault operation.

Photo courtesy of Claude Salhani
A 24th MAU Marine trains Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers in close combat techniques in December 1982.

Some Lebanese officers had attended Army schools at Fort Benning and Fort Leavenworth, and although fairly well-versed in general military subjects, they were rusty in military skills. The most serious weakness in the Lebanese Armed Forces, however, was the inexperience of their non-commissioned officers.12 Every senior Marine instructor was a gunnery sergeant, and as Lieutenant Colonel Matthews, BLT 3/8 commander, recalls:

. . . our goal was to allow the Lebanese Army to see how our NCOs function, and they function without officers and they saw that and . . . in many cases absorbed that kind of demonstrated leadership, and they certainly absorbed a lot of our spirit.13

Lieutenant Colonel Matthews also noted that his Marines trained battalion after battalion of the Lebanese Armed Forces in close combat and bayonet training, ". . . and they hear the arrrugahs going, they seemed to enjoy it."14

To demonstrate the seriousness of its intent in rebuilding the LAF, on 11 December, the Government of Lebanon appointed as commanding general of Lebanese Armed Forces, General Ibrahim Tannous, a barrel-chested, war-scarred veteran. He seemed determined to rebuild an organization that really had not been out of its barracks since 1976 except to man permissive checkpoints. Lieutenant Colonel Matthews saw General Tannous as a carbon copy of his division commander, tobacco-chewing Major General Al Gray.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthews noted that Tannous'

. . . rapport with the troops is almost the same as General Gray's . . . General Gray got the capability of talking with the PFCs and they know he really cares about them. And that's the way General Tannous comes across, in my view,, with the Lebanese Army. So, I think that's awfully good and healthy.51

Both the Marines and the Lebanese profited from the cross-training program. For the Lebanese, it meant sharpening their own skill, ". . . and working with the Lebanese soldiers gave our troops a very clear mission identification. The Lebanese whom they knew . . . they worked with, squad leader to squad leader, . . did have a real strong desire to defend their country."16


USMC Photo
A BLT 3/8 platoon leader demonstrates the TOW anti-tank missile launcher to members of the French MNF.

During January, in preparation for artillery cross-training with Lebanese artillery units, Battery G, 10th Marines, the 24th MAU's artillery unit that came ashore on 3 December, began training in all aspects of its specialty, Cross-training with the LAF began on 10 January. There was also cross-training in combat service support, for the Lebanese especially needed familiarization with the new vehicles and equipment the United States was supplying their army.

Cross-training also began with other MNF units in December. That month, the MAU's amtracs began using the Italian force's tracked vehicle course to maintain the proficiency of marine drivers and mechanics. On the 14th, the Marines conducted a training exercise with 102 French paratroopers. The exercise included a heliborne assault demonstration, amtrac operations from the and weapons familiarization ashore. later that month, the French paratroopers joined the Marines in a training session that involved rappelling from helicopters.

As soon as the 24th MAU's troops were settled in, their own unit training began. Much time was spent learning about the culture and history of Lebanon. The political officer of the American embassy presented lectures to the Marine officers on the Lebanese political situation. Professors from Beirut University, from the American University in Beirut, and from the faculty of the Lebanese Science University talked ot the officers, who in turn ". . . would impart that information to the troops and we'd go down and talk to the PFC and he's telling you about the Druze and the Phalange; you know, he had a crash course of 109 days in the history of Beirut proper and Lebanon in general."17 The dividend from all this was the fact that the young Marine could go home after his tour in Lebanon and speak intelligently about his experiences.

Tours of historic Lebanese places, begun during the 32d's tour, were continued by the 24th. Although none of the Marines was allowed liberty in Beirut, Colonel Mead had introduced a program of getting his Marines out of the lines and into trucks for tours of Beirut, past the famous Museum Crossing which separated Muslim west Beirut from Christian east Beirut, and Martyr Square, and then to Juniyah. While the 24th MAU was in country, representatives of the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism also took Marines on tour of Byblos, an historic coastal village about 20 miles north of Beirut. Called Jubayl in olden times, it dated back to the days of ancient Phoenicia and contained historic ruins, remnants of its earlier splendor. The Marines also were able to go on one-day skiing excursions into the mountains.18 Sailors from Phibron 6 and the carrier battle group were also invited to join in these trips. The situation ashore at this time also permitted the MAU to send some of its Marines on port visits with Phibron ships to Athens, Greece, and Antalya, Turkey.

While the Marines were performing their daily tasks on the ground, and the squadron's helicopters were busy with either logistic or diplomatic support missions, the MAU's doctors and corpsmen established a Medical Community Aid Program (MEDCAP) on 30 November, with the assistance of the Lebanese liaison officer to the MAU. In an area on the airport road north of the MAU compound, at a Lebanese checkpoint, the MSSG set up three general purpose tents on a hard-top site, 100 meters by 100 meters, and wired the tents for lighting. Three days each week, the MAU's medical platoon trucked medical supplies and dental equipment to the tents, and prepared to open sick call at 0900. Treatment was given to all Lebanese who sought it. On the medical end, the patients were diagnosed and treated, but no surgery was performed. The dental section, on the other hand, ". . . was able


to provide a level of dentistry that far exceeded anything that even the most affluent Lebanese could purchase in Beirut."19 Initially the Lebanese were hesitant to accept the services the Americans were providing, but before long, there were lines of patients waiting for treatment. Before the 24th MAU left Beirut, its MEDCAP had treated over 2,000 Lebanese nationals.20

Photo courtesy Col Thomas M. Stokes, Jr., USMC (Ret)
24th MAU commander Col Thomas M. Stokes, Jr., escorts President of Lebanon Amin Gemayel (right) and Gen Ibrahim Tannous (left), Lebanese Armed Forces commander, as they make a Christmas Day visit to the 24th MAU in 1982. To the left on Tannous is 24th MAU Sergeant Major Valdemar Vasquez.

During December, Colonel Stokes and his command were visited by General Tannous and President Gemayel, as well as by Major General Gray, and Terrence Cardinal Cook, Military Vicar of the U.S. Armed Forces, who celebrated mass while ashore. Four British liaison officers visited COlonel Stokes in January, prior to the arrival of a British contingent for the MNF in February. Congressman Murtha revisited Beirut in January. Before the MAU left Lebanon in February, it also hosted two separate senatorial groups, one headed by Senator Dan Quayle and the second by Senator Dennis DeConcini, as well as permanent staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Military visitors to Task Forces 61 and 62 included Vice Admiral Thomas J. Kilcline, Commander, Naval AIr Forces, Atlantic Fleet; the Inspector General of the French MNF contingent; Vice Admiral Charles R. Larson, Commander Task Force 60, Nimitz, Carrier Battle Group; and Vice Admiral Edward S. Briggs, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Atlantic Fleet.

Photo courtesy of Claude Salhani
Terrence Cardinal Cooke, Military Vicar of the Armed Forces of the United States, visits Marines and sailors of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, Beirut, New Year's Eve, 1982.


USMC Photo by SSgt Robert E. Kline
2d Marine Division commander MajGen Alfred M. Gray visits with Lebanese soldiers.

Copyright 1983. Dick Locher, Chicago Tribune. Reprinted with permission.


A matter of concern occurring during this deployment was the escalation of Marine-Israeli Defense Force confrontations. To Colonel Stokes, it was a real problem. He was not only worried about the possible loss of life, but also about the impact on Israeli-American confrontation would have on the Lebanese situation overall.21

The problem stemmed from the Israelis being assigned the Old Sidon Road to use as a main supply route for their troops in positions northeast of the Marines. In the latter part of November and through all of December, Israeli vehicles were being fired upon. The IDF then dispatched convoys with armed escorts. At the end of December, a high ranking Israeli officer was reportedly killed in an ambush. In early January 1983, the command vehicle of a convoy was destroyed with loss of life. The Israelis suspected that the attacks were being mounted by PLO personnel who emerged from Marine-occupied territory and then immediately retreated to what they considered sanctuary.

Photo courtesy of Claude Salhani
LCpl Roger E. Dery (l) and Cpls James Burnett (center) and Darrell A. Banks (r) contemplate the distances from Beirut to some places they would rather be.

The first Marine-Israeli contact occurred on 5 January, when an Israeli tank entered Company K's positions in the eastern portion of the Marine perimeter. Claiming to be lost, the Israelis were quickly escorted out of the Marines' territory. Colonel Stokes happened to be visiting Company K that day, and he ". . . refreshed the [Israeli] tank company commander's memory on the extent of USMC boundaries around the Beirut International Airport and [on] land navigation."2

Again, on 6, 8, and 10 January, the Israelis attempted to enter U.S. positions and to set up direct conferences between Colonel Stokes and their commander. In each case, the Israelis were not allowed into Marine lines, and they were reminded that requests to confer with Colonel Stokes had to go through diplomatic channels. In commenting on this matter of dealing with the Israelis on a face-to-face basis, Colonel Stokes later expressed some of his frustrations and a military professional's point of view by saying:

Ground commanders do a much better job of dealing with and clarifying their own tactical matters than do staff officers and diplomats. If there had been a free and timely flow of required info between this officer and Brig Amnon (*Lifkin, senior Israeli officer in the area] and LtCol Matthews, [CO, BLT 3/8] and LtCol Landsberg (Israeli tank unit commander], the last 30 days may have been much quieter for us in south Beirut. The above may not be possible, but it is logical.23

In addition to the incursion into their territory, Marines had to contend with the repeated Israeli patrol practice of reconnaissance by fire, which they began on 9 January. "These patrols were characterized by intermittent firing of small arms, main tank guns (firing usually being directed toward vacant buildings and into open fields or tree groves both west and east of the Sidon Road.)"24 The Sidon Road patrols generally moved from south to north, and upon reaching the proximate position of Marine Company L, the patrol would move south and take up a position,, where it remained al day. These patrols were generally comprised of one to four armored vehicles (armored personnel carriers or tanks), followed closely by 5 to as many as 14 dismounted soldiers. Although the patrols became predictable and routine, the firing clearly became a threat to the safety of U.S. forces. It was quite clear Colonel Stokes that he had to discuss the matter face to face with the senior Israeli officer in the area, and so he insisted upon such a meeting. With the assistance of Ambassador Dillon, he was able to arrange. one.25

Colonel Stokes met with Brigadier General Lifkin to discuss the Sidon Road problem and other matters of mutual concern. The Israeli general agreed to establish a direct radio link between his headquarters


Copyright 1983. Don Wright. The Miami News. Reprinted with permission.

and that of the Marines. This was done on 30 January. Four days earlier, the Israeli practice of reconnaissance by fire had ended, although patrolling continued.26

In February, the understanding with the Israelis over boundaries and the conduct of patrols--which was thought to be a settled matter--was found to be not so clearly understood as originally thought. The single-most notable demonstration of this lack of understanding occurred on 2 February, when three israeli tanks attempted to go through Captain Charles B. Johnson's Company L position.

At about 0800, from his observation post, Captain Johnson, together with the advance party of the British MNF contingent,27 observed an Israeli patrol coming up Old Sidon Road from the south. This was normal. Half an hour later, he spotted a north-to-south patrol, which also was normal. It consisted of three tanks, two armored personnel carriers (APCs), and dismounted troops. "Again, we're seeing them about 3,000 meters off. We could see that far, all the way down the Sidon Road."28

The only thing that was unusual about this patrol was that the troops ere dismounted, for the Israeli patrols in the previous two weeks had all been mounted. Captain Johnson] then went on to say:

. . . sometime between 0830 and 0900, one of my surveillance people . . . spotted three additional tanks coming on the road . . . the one they had built along the railroad tracks, and then they [the tanks] broke off the road and they continued up the railroad tracks right up to the edge of the university grounds. . . . That's when I knew something was up. There were three tanks road. . . There was no tactical reason for them to do that. . . . They brought tanks right through the middle of Shuwayfat, which is a Muslim area and it's relatively dangerous to do that.29

What Captain Johnson had spotted were three tanks ng from the north and three tanks coming from the south. He couldn't see them when they were in the town, but they were spotted shortly after as they left it and broke through the orchard on the western side of the Sidon Road into the buffer zone between the road and the university. The tanks were heading for a section of the fence where Captain johnson had confronted an APC-mounted Israeli patrol on 20 January. The COmpany L commander quickly got in his jeep and went to the spot the tanks were approaching. Captain Johnson didn't think that:

. . . they would actually try to come through a joint Marine-lebanese checkpoint like that. But once it developed, I was very concerned that if the tanks were allowed to move forward, there was a very dangerous situation, because the road they were on . . . went right through the heart of the


university . . . divided the Marine company and the Lebanese company.30

Johnson feared that if the tanks attempted to pass, a firefight might erupt between the Lebanese and the Israelis. If a fight ensued, the Marines would have to support the lebanese. He wasn't worried about the Marines' fire discipline, but he was concerned about that of the Lebanese soldiers.

As the Israeli tanks approached the fence, Captain Johnson jumped out of his jeep, ran up to the tanks, and stood in the center of the road. The lead tank stopped about six inches in front of Johnson, would told the Israeli lieutenant colonel in the lead tank, "You will not pass through this position." After a short pause, the Israeli dismounted, spoke with Johnson, and then climbed back aboard the tank, saying that he was going through. Johnson later stated that he replied, "You will have to kill me first."31 He drew his pistol, chambered a round, and held the weapon at the ready position. There was another pause as the Israeli officer apparently spoke over his radio to his headquarters. The lead tank then pulled slowly to the side of the road with Captain Johnson walking alongside and then the two others suddenly revved up their engines and whipped forward toward the fence.

The young Marine captain jumped on the lead tank, grabbed the Israeli officer, and yelled at him to order his tanks halted. The tank commander complied and then purportedly told Johnson, "One thing we don't want to do is kill each other." Johnson answered, "Yes, but if you keep doing things like this, the likelihood is going to occur."32

While the local Arab radio stations were telling and retelling the story of the American who stopped the three Israeli tanks singlehandedly, the Israeli press was accusing Captain Johnson of having liquor on his breath and being drunk. Worse, they called the whole affair a misunderstanding on the part of the Marines. Confronted by evidence, among other things, that Johnson was a teetotaler, the Israelis quickly toned down, and finally stopped such comments when they saw they were not going to be given credence.

Within a few minutes of the confrontation, Johnson's battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Matthews, arrived on the scene. He had observed part of what happened and asked Johnson a full and immediate report, "And I gave him the whole thing . . . and we spent about 20 minutes walking the ground an so forth."33 Matthews then said they should tell the whole story to Colonel Stokes, who went back to the fence area with Johnson and rewalked the area where the confrontation took place. The MAU commander reported the incident through the chain of command. The next day, 3 February, Israeli and American diplomats met in Beirut, where they agreed to mark the boundary lines more clearly so there would be no future misunderstandings.

A routine, daily press conference was held at 1600 on the afternoon of the 2d at Colonel Stokes' headquarters. The most important topic concerned a ricochet 75mm tank round that had landed in Company I's positions. Nothing was said about Captain Johnson's experience until the press stormed back into the compound at 2300 that evening, undoubtedly having been queried by their home offices why stories had not been filed on the U.S.-Israeli affair. When the reporters asked Colonel Stokes why he hadn't told them about it, he replied that no one had asked, and said further, ". . . it's not my job to determine what's newsworthy and what's not. . . ."34

Normally a quiet officer despite his impressive military presence, Captain Johnson was told by his CO that he was going to have to submit to the questions of the print and television reporters at a press conference, much as he disliked the prospects of such an encounter. A by-product of this instant fame was heavy mail. A large number of former Marines and retired servicemen wrote and sent messages of support. "A lot of children wrote from schools and they were really nice letters. A lot of people wrote. I got hundreds of letters." Captain Johnson also received a message from the Commandant after the 24th left Lebanon. "It was a wonderful message to my men, how he was proud of the men," Johnson said. In retrospect, Johnson never felt that what he had done was wrong. "I had no doubt in my mind that what I had done was the right thing. . . . I had regret that it happened, but I did not have any regret in what I had done."35

During the month of January, the MAU prepared for its scheduled relief in February. Like the previous October's turnover, it would be a relief in place. The advance party of the 22d MAU arrived in Beirut on 9 February and each member was taken in hand by his 24th MAU counterpart. Since the first relief had gone so smoothly, there was little reason to believe that the second would be otherwise. It wasn't. At 0700 on 14 February, elements of the 22d MAU started landing and BLT 3/8 was relieved in place by BLT 2/6 by 1251, MSSG 24 was relieved by MSSG 22 at 1300, and HMM-264 relieved HMM-263 of the Cobra alert mission at 1326. Colonel Mead, commander of the 22d MAU, back in Beirut for a third time, assumed control of the forces ashore at 1515. The next day, 15 February, he assumed command of the U.S. Multi-National


Department of Defense (USMC) Photo DN-Sn-84-00723
A Marine stands watch as other Marines jog on the Beirut International Airport perimeter road, with Burj al Barahiunah, outside the fence, posing a threat in the background.

Photograph by the author
MAU Marines decorated "The Peacekeepers' Tavern," a spare but cool and safe refuge in the basement of the MSSG headquarters building at Beirut International Airport.


Photo courtesy of Claude Salhani
Senior Chief Journalist Tom Jones, USN, mans the control board on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service broadcast module set up in the U.S. Multi-National Force compound at Beirut Airport.

Force in Lebanon, as Phibron 6 with 24th MAU embarked was steaming towards Rota and home.36

The 24th MAU carried out its washdown in Rota and sailed to Morehead City, where it arrived n 8 March to be greeted by bands, the media, and families. Colonel Stokes was relieved as CO by Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty on 17 March. Four days later, BLT 3/8 and HMM-263 were relieved as elements of the 24th MAU by BLT 1/8 and HMM-162. For service in Beirut, the 24th MAU was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation; Colonel Stokes was decorated with the Legion of Merit.37

The 24th MAU's deployment was not as spectacular as the 32d's deployment nor were its Marines in the international spotlight as much. But the MAU sailed home with a feeling of a difficult job well done in continuing the diplomatic mission of presence handed to it by its predecessor. Like the 32d MAU before it, the 24th MAU had been well supported by FMFLant. The response in terms of equipment, personnel, and the like was, according to Colonel Stokes, ". . . almost embarrassing it was so damned good and fast."38 The cold, rainy weather had been wreaking havoc with the field boots of the Marines. The mAU sought to requisition an overboot to keep the Marines' feet dry, ". . . and I had a couple of airplanes full of them before I could shake a stick. And . . . these same young kids whose mothers tried to put galoshes on them when they were about eight or nine years old--they wouldn't sell that pair of galoshes they put over their boots for $100."39

The 24th MAU maintained an active physical training program. Marine runners used the airfield perimeter road, which measured six miles all the way around, and a number of them participated in a 10 kilometer race with the French and Italians two weeks after their arrival in October, and lost.

The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service arrived at Beirut on 17 December. Now the MAU Marines could listen to radio programs featuring the latest news of the "Top Twenty" popular tunes. Later in the Marine deployments, the AFRTS would broadcast television programs, in which the Marines could see themselves featured in network news shows and also watch commercial television programs, without commercials.

Meanwhile the Marine flyers could list some real achievements. HMM-263 flew 6,349 hours in logistic, VIP, and diplomatic missions. By the time the Marine flyers returned to New River, they had all qualified as helicopter aircraft commanders.

MSSG-24 was also well employed during its 108 days ashore in Beirut. With its 16 MA-13 five-ton trucks, Major Buckner's truck platoon logged 39,000 miles, as opposed to the usual 15,000 registered in a normal six-month MAU deployment in the Mediterranean.40 Careful preparation and attention to detail led to the successful operation of the service support group in Lebanon, and, according to Major Buckner, his Marines ". . . just did a magnificent job. Very heartwarming to see. And when they left, they left with a real sense of fulfillment, whether the guy was a truck driver or mechanic, or a shore party man or a dentist or military policeman or an air delivery guy, a communicator, admin guy. You know, he felt that he had really done something worthwhile. And I'm sure they got a lifetime of memories out of it."41

Colonel Matthews had much the same reaction when he asked one of his Marines what he thought of Lebanon. The Marine replied, "Sire, it was an experience. . . . It was a good one, because I feel for the first time in my life I've done something that is positive. I feel that I contributed something to a country that wants to get on its feet."42

With this the general consensus, the 24th MAU returned home. And within weeks after the 22d MAU began Beirut IV, the 24th started preparations for its May 1983 deployment.


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[1] Col Thomas M. Stokes,Jr., intvw, dtd 15Mar83, hereafter Stokes intvw.

[2] 24th MAU SitRep No. 13, dtd 3Oct82.

[3] Stokes intvw, p. 2.

[4] Stokes intvw, p. 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 24th MAU SitRep No. 19, dtd 14Nov82.

[7] 24 MAY ComdC, Nov82.

[8] Arey intvw, p. 10.

[9] Maj John A. Tempone and Capt Charles T. Botkin intvw, dtd 15Mar83, p. 43, hereafter Tempone-Botkin intvw.

[10] 24th MAU ComdC, Nov82.

[11] 24th MAU SitRep No. 19, dtd 14Nov82.

[12] LtCol John B. Matthews intvw, dtd 16Mar83, p. 13, hereafter Matthews intvw.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 15. As Marines use it, "arrrugah" is akin to a war cry, an expression of enthusiasm and esprit de corps. When the author was with the 22d MAU at Beirut International Airport in May 1983, he noted groups of LAF recruits jogging in the vicinity of the MAU headquarters, chanting as they ran, while cautiously looking to see whether the Marines noted and approved.

[15] Ibid., p. 14.

[16] Tempone/Botkin intvw, p. 26.

[17] Matthews intvw, p. 37.

[18] Stokes intvw, p. 18.

[19] Maj. David N. Buckner intvw, dtd 18Mar83, p. 21, hereafter Buckner intvw.

[20] Ibid., p. 26.

[21] Stokes intvw, p. 49.

[22] 24th ComdC, Jan83.

[23] 24th MAU SitRep No. 31, dtd 6Feb83.

[24] 24th MAU ComdC, Jan83, p. 2.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The British were there because they were going to move into a position directly across the road from the Marines.

[28] Capt Charles B. Johnson intvw, dtd 16mar83, p. 21, hereafter Johnson intvw.

[29] Ibid., p. 23.

[30] Ibid., p. 25.

[31] Johnson interview on station WRC, Channel 4, Washington, D.C. "5:30 Live," television program, 29Mar83.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Johnson intvw, p. 28.

[34] Ibid., p. 30.

[35] Ibid., pp. 34-36.

[36] 24th MAU ComdC, Feb83.

[37] 24th MAU SitRep No. 37, dtd 21Mar83.

[38] Stokes intvw, p. 43.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Buckner intvw, p. 21.

[41] Ibid., pp. 33-34.

[42] Matthews intvw, p. 36.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation