Jacksonville is home to perhaps the least well-known must-see destination in North Carolina: The Beirut Memorial. It’s a monument to the 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers killed on Oct. 23, 1983 in what would be the first large-scale act of terrorism committed against Americans. Members of Camp Lejeune’s 24th Marine Amphibious Unit made up the vast majority of the troops who perished that day when a truck filled with explosives was driven into the barracks by islamic extremists.
The world would never be the same again. And it left a huge mark on the Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune and the population of Jacksonville — a town once divided by military and civilian loyalities that came together as one afterward to rebuld shattered lives and a wounded community.
The memorial on Lejeune Boulevard (also known as N.C. 24) is the result. The monument, a solitary Marine, is stark and the tree-lined park itself is remarkably quiet considering that it’s next to a major highway. Along the median of Lejeune Boulevard, which links the city to the main gate at Camp Leujene, Bradford pears are planted in memory of each service member killed that day. Their names are inscribed on a wall of the memorial.
The trees and monument are there to remind us all of the sacrifices made by the Marine peacekeeping force sent to Lebanon to provide some form of security during a civil war between Chrisians and Muslims. The Marines were seen as enemies by the latter, even though that was far from the case. The legend at the memorial, “The Came In Peace,” speaks volumes. Today, hundreds converged upon the site for the yearly Beirut Observance.
It’s also a solemn marker to the root of terrorism committed against Americans, something that would continue over the next 29 years, most recently in Libya.
Really, it’s a memorial all Americans should see. People who vacation in North Carolina coastal communities like Topsail Island, Swansboro or Emerald Isle should make it a point to drive the 20 or so miles to Jacksonville and spend some time in reflection there.