PORTSMOUTH — Lt. Col. Scott Stephan, USMC, said he was just 5 years old in October 1983 when 241 U.S. service men and women were killed in a terrorist attack while on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
Still, he told a crowd on the lawn of the Portsmouth Historical Society Saturday morning, he felt a special kinship with those men and women whom he never met.
His father was in the military at the time, Stephan said, and he would eventually join him in service and take part in the invasion of Iraq. His personal decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with combat distinguishing device and the Combat Action Ribbon.
“Your Marines are part of a long line of Patriots that goes back 246 years. I feel connected to them,” said Stephan, adding that a close friend of his lost his father in Beirut in February 1983, eight months before the bormbing.
Saturday’s service marked the 38th anniversary of the Oct. 23, 1983 terrorist bombing. At about 6:20 a.m. that Sunday morning, a yellow Mercedes stake-bed truck crashed into the lobby of the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines before the driver detonated a suicide bomb.
FBI forensics experts later determined the bomb was the equivalent to about 12,000 pounds of T.N.T. and was the largest non-nuclear blast since World War II. Across town, a second suicide attack killed 56 French soldiers.
The nine Marines from Rhode Island who perished included two brothers-in-law: Cpl. Stephen E. Spencer, 23, of Portsmouth; and Lance Cpl. James F. Silvia, 20, of Middletown.
Also killed were PFC Thomas Julian, 21, a 1979 graduate of Portsmouth High School; Cpl. Edward Soares Jr., 21, of Tiverton; and Sgt. Timothy Giblin of Providence, Cpl. David C. Massa of Warren, Cpl. Thomas A. Shipp of Woonsocket, Cpl. Rick R. Crudale of West Warwick and Cpl. Edward S. Iacovino Jr. of Warwick.
“Thank you for the Marines, the soldiers and sailors who came before us,” Stephan said in his concluding remarks.
Before Stephan spoke, Kasim Yarn, director of the R.I. Office of Veterans Services, read a proclamation from Gov. Daniel McKee in honor of the Rhode Island Nine.
The observance ended with each fallen soldier’s name called and a family member placing a flower in a wreath that was later placed at the stone memorial facing East Main Road.