The Wall

35 years ago our worlds were turned upside down.  Things would never be as they once were.  Husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, and friends were lost. Scars were formed that could never heal. The young men that returned home were not the same men that deployed.  The Beirut Veterans of America Organization is charged with ensuring the world never forgets.  The week of the 23rd we did just that.  

Veterans, Gold Star Families, and friends came together to honor our fallen heroes, to support one another, and to reminisce about the “good ol’ days”.  Through tears and laughter, the already strong bond that holds us together grew even stronger.  

Doc Brown at Paris Island - Oct. 2018
Alicia:    When were you in Beirut and what was your role?  

Doc:   I was assigned as a Hospital Corpsman HM3 to the MSSG24 MED/DN DET in support of the Marine Amphibious Unit MAU and the BLT 1/8 from May to Nov 1983.   While assigned to this deployment late, I had the fortunate opportunity to befriend several Marines while deployed and on liberty.

Alicia:   Why did you do the walk and where did you walk from and to?

Doc:   Over the course of the past several years while attending Memorial and Veterans Day observances I became aware that most people fail to remember the events of Beirut unless they were specifically affected by either being there or by sacrificing some that was. 
While attempting to make a difference this year, I developed a plan to walk from Jacksonville NC to Jacksonville Fl in 28 days carrying a 30-pound pack and walking 24.1 miles a day honoring the 241 families that lost a father, son, or brother on Oct 23, 1983. However, after walking my first day with 106 heat factor I changed my plan to walk a straight line HWY 17. Had it not been for the help of some amazing people, Craig Renshaw (former BVA President) who I did not know,  followed me for two and a half days carrying my pack and feeding me Gatorade and water every 15 minutes. Or retired 1stSgt Darryl and Anita Woodard, and his American Legion Vice Commander both arrived with fresh baked cinnamon rolls at 4am to follow me all the way on day six. This also when I realized that if I did not have permanent help I would probably not make it on time. So I called my wife Cheryl) and had her leave her job to help support me and my cause. 
Ultimately we covered 538 miles in 29 days, successfully completing my 24.1 a day 13 times and the equivalent of 2 full marathons while completing the 27.3 for all names on the wall. Raising over $7500.00 in funds for the BVA scholarship fund created this year with an initial donation of 10K.
OUR walk culminated with family members joining us for the last 3 miles escorted by the Patriot Guard of NC to the family/unit formation at the memorial gardens.

Alicia:   Are there any significant stories you would like to share from your walk?

Doc:   There were so many stories along the path I could share, but the two that reinforced my efforts while walking were when W George Thompson a survivor expressed an interest in walking with me a month before I started my journey and kept commenting that he would walk with me. A retired Charleston Police Officer and 3rd floor survivor of the Beirut bombing! His wife Karen dropped George off with me in Mount Pleasant and we walked for 4 miles putting his new knee to work. Honored and humbled on this day to have such a man and his wife walk with us. 
One other example was when I met a young couple ( Emma and Tyler) in a campground and they had asked me "why had we not learned about this in school", I told them " I was wondering the same thing, why"? It was then that I realized that part of OUR goals need to include education and awareness.

Alicia:   Are there plans for future events?
Doc:   Yes, I was contacted by two Marines who wished to continue our efforts to educate, raise awareness and honor the Gold Star families. We are making plans to continue OUR walk from Jacksonville NC to Arlington cemetery, section 59 in DC October 2019. More information will be forthcoming. 

Alicia:   I took a photo of you at the memorial and you depicted what I think we were all feeling. Can you explain what you were thinking/feeling at that time?  

Doc:   That photo was taken when I was remembering the sunrise services and families that had made their journey to the memorial for the first time. Two families, in particular, Brett Croft and Richard Barrett of Target Acquisition Battery both rode the USS Portland with me and both were brought to life by photos and stories from their shipmates and brothers. The term "brotherhood/families" has been demonstrated beyond DNA in this group. 

Alicia:   Do you come to the memorial in Jacksonville every year?  Why do you feel it’s important to be there? 
Doc:   This is my 4th time to the Memorial since 1995. The 30th and 35th were for the recognized 5-year memorial services. The significance for me attending this year was to help raise awareness for the Gold Star families and survivors. 35 years is a long time carry a burden of feeling like we did not do enough or have failed in other aspects of life as a result. However, my wife Cheryl and I will continue our annual trek as long as we are able. Next year we will be providing support to Pete Sloper (red patcher) and walking with him while honoring Gold Star families.

Alicia:   Any additional info you would like to share?

Doc:   Follow us on my FB page Beirut Memorial Walk.

Bike Ride

38 Beirut Veteran riders joined in the third annual Strength and honor Bike Run which started at New River Harley Davidson and ended at the Beirut Memorial.  

This year’s proceeds when to the Charles Lake Milam Scholarship Fund which totaled over $1260.  

The BVA Meeting was held October 22nd at the USO.  This year it was a full house.  Margaret Pollard informed the membership that the Beirut Memorial Scholarship is up and running.  There will be a committee that will meet regularly to set the criteria and amounts for the scholarship.  If you are interested in serving on this committee, please contact Margaret.  

 Elections were held this year for four board positions as Randy Gaddo was moved to Emeritus Board Member status.  The four elected board members are Rick Cunningham, Bill Yontz, Jack McDonald, and David Seelye. 

Dan Joy Founders Award

This year the BVA hosted the 35th Memorial Remembrance Dinner at Goettge Field House on Camp LeJeune. There were 750 tickets sold to the event.  The event started with toasts to families and fallen brothers.  The Founders Award was presented to Dan Joy.  Ed “Doc” Brown was also recognized for the walk that he did to bring awareness to our fallen.  General Al Gray was the keynote speaker.    

35th Candle light service

Hundreds of Veterans and family members met at the Wall at 0600 on 23 October 2018 to pay tribute to the fallen.  The names were read by loved ones and friends and concluded with a moment of silence. Surrounded by the darkness and the glow of the candles loved ones could silently reflect on the sacrifice of their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, and friends.  

The candlelight service is an annual event that is always well attended.  The reading of the names concludes at 0622 which is when the bombing occurred in Beirut, Lebanon. 

Flag waving at Devil Dog Ceremony

With the sun shining brightly at Camp Geiger Monument Circle, a small group of former Battalion 1/8 Veterans and families of those lost in the October 23, 1983 attack gathered for a brief remembrance ceremony. This annual event at Camp Geiger is hosted by the local chapter of the Military Order of the Devil Dogs.

This year's speaker was the former 12th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Harold G. Overstreet. Standing in front of the monument honoring Marines who died in Lebanon during 1982-84 with his trademark cowboy hat, Sergeant Major Overstreet shared how the memory of those who died in Beirut taught lessons that impacted how the Marine Corps operated and fought much like other historic events and battles have done. 

 After the remembrance, the veterans and family members walked through the circle under the large waving American flag as the Rolling Thunder saluted them for their service and sacrifice. This small but important ceremony at Camp Geiger, which is still home to 1/8 Battalion, is part of the tradition to remember the peacekeepers who died in Beirut.