The Rhode Island Nine

beirut memorialMarine Barracks Memorial Outside Camp Lejeune


Corporal James Silvia of Middletown; Lance Corporal Thomas Julian and Corporal Stephen Spencer of Portsmouth; Corporal David Massa of Warren; Sergeant Timothy Giblin of North Providence; Corporal. Edward Soares Jr. of Tiverton; Corporal Rick Crudale of West Warwick; Corporal Edward Iacovino Jr. of Warwick and Corporal Thomas Shipp of Woonsocket.

Patriotism and military service has always flourished in the smallest state in the nation. Before the American Revolution, Rhode Islanders boarded and burned the British ship HMS Gaspee helping spark the American Revolution. Rhode Islanders have always been eager to enlist in the military both in peacetime and wars. I like all Rhode Islanders that joined the Marine Corps traveled with a recruiter to the Boston Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPS). This is where all newly enlisted are processed and then transported to Paris Island, South Carolina for Marine Corps Boot Camp. The Rhode Island Nine would have traveled the same route, endured the sand fleas of Paris Island and sought out others like themselves who would have commiserated about missing Del’s, clam cakes, cabinets, chowder, coffee milk, quahogs, and wicked New England sports teams. The Rhode Island Nine all found themselves stationed at Camp Lejeune after Bootcamp and then deployed ending up in Beirut as part of the peacekeeping forces.

In 1983, Beirut was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Eight years of civil war, fighting between Christian and Muslim militias, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasser Arafat, invasions by Israel, the Syrians and Iranians made surviving in Beirut a unique skillset. Thirty-six years ago, 241 Americans lost their lives serving as peacekeepers in Beirut. The Rhode Island Nine were among those Marines that were killed that day.

On that Sunday morning, October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck traveled down Airport Road passing the FAA Civil Aviation School on the left. Just ahead after passing by checkpoint 4 was the suicide bomber’s target. Slowly turning into the Beirut International Airport public parking lot the suicide bomber had now taken a full measure of his target. The driver of the truck began to pick up sped and crashed through the barbed wire fence passing between two Marine checkpoints as he raced towards his target. The Marines’ Rules of Engagement (ROE) kept their magazines in their ammo pouches instead of having a loaded weapon ready to go. To fire on an enemy the Marines had to get permission of a Commissioned Officer before they could load their M-16. An asymmetric weapon was about to be unleased on the Marines in Beirut by terrorists.

At 0622 a.m. the suicide bomber crashed his truck bomb into the sandbagged Sergeant of the Guard’s post inside the building and then detonated. Two hundred and forty-one Americans lost their lives that morning. Hezbollah and the Iranians were perfecting a new tactic, one which would cause such destruction and hurt in numerous countries as other terrorist groups sought to copy and modify this new way to attack a stronger enemy. Just outside of Camp Lejeune, there is a memorial that honors all those that lost their lives thirty-six years ago. Gold Star families from Beirut remember their loved ones on this day and we should remember them in our thoughts and prayers.

Outside the Portsmouth Historical Society in Portsmouth, Rhode Island there is a small memorial to honor the Rhode Island Nine. It is almost embarrassing that these Nine Rhode Islanders are not honored in a more appropriate way. Each of the nine volunteered for service to the Marine Corps and their country. In the post-modern era of terrorism, the 241 Americans were among the first casualties in the war on terrorism. The poet, Wallace Bruce once said that “Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours.” We have a duty to honor the Rhode Island Nine with a memorial fitting their service to Rhode Island and our country.