Read the recent Cleveland Plain Dealer article about BCSI founder Greg Rosenberg’s time in Beirut, Lebanon during the 1983 bombing of Marine Headquarters.
Navy veteran remembers deadly Beirut bombing of 1983
A suicide bomber had just driven a truck laden with explosives into barracks housing U.S. Marines of a multinational peacekeeping force.
The four-story building collapsed, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, wounding another 128 American servicemen.
For the Marines, it was the deadliest single-day death toll since the invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II.
A second truck bomb, detonated minutes later, killed 58 French paratroopers who were quartered in another building.
Rosenberg, 59, of Solon, remembered being blown from his bunk, his hands and feet slashed by flying shards of concrete and debris in his quarters about 100 yards from the demolished barracks.
Staggering outside, he was greeted by a horrific scene of carnage and chaos.
Nothing had prepared him, or anyone else for this kind of attack on a day when peacekeeping died.
When Rosenberg joined the Navy in 1978, he was looking for a job, not necessarily an adventure; a way to use his education in television and film production from the University of New Mexico.
He served three years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence, traveling to Israel, Greece, Spain, France and the Indian Ocean.
“It was a dangerous time over there because nobody really knew what was going on,” he added.
The country was wracked by civil war and sectarian violence which included attacks against U.S. and Western interests.
Rosenberg appreciated the risks of his new duty assignment, but not as much as his mother.
“When I told her what I was doing, she said, ‘Well I’m going to call my Congressman. You’re not going over there.’
“I said no, it would not be a good career move to do that,” he recalled with a grin.
In Beirut, Rosenberg’s unit was responsible for providing content for radio/TV news and entertainment programs broadcast to the peacekeeping troops.
Those troops were periodically subjected to sniper, mortar and rocket fire.
“It was a combat zone, it really was,” Rosenberg said. “It was supposed to be a ‘peacekeeping’ force, but when you’re there, you’re a target.”
That fact was brought vividly home on Oct. 23, 1983, as Rosenberg surveyed what was left of the Marine barracks just after the blast.
“It was pretty gruesome. There were body parts literally sticking out of piles of concrete. There were people laid out on the ground, and people with their heads blown off,” he said.
“The carnage, that was very hard to deal with.”
Lebanese construction contractors brought in heavy cranes to lift slabs of concrete from the rubble.
Rosenberg noted that after years of combat in Beirut, “the one thing the Lebanese are experts at is digging people out of buildings. Unfortunately they’ve had a lot of experience at that.”
The citation for a Navy Commendation Medal later awarded to Rosenberg, along with a Purple Heart, noted, “Following the bombing, Lieutenant Rosenberg, despite injuries, led his detachment in carrying out rescue efforts of other personnel at the site of the bombing.”
That same day he had the damaged radio/TV station back in operation. “I really felt the best thing we could do is get our system back up and running, and start broadcasting news about what was taking place,” Rosenberg said.
He recalled that initially, “I was angry and scared at the same time. Really, everybody was on edge pretty much after that, not knowing if there was another one coming.”
But additionally, and oddly enough, the blast “in a lot of ways solidified our resolve to be there,” Rosenberg added.
That commitment would only last another three months when President Ronald Reagan ordered the Marines home.
Rosenberg returned to his former duties in Puerto Rico, then later transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met and married his wife, Maryann, who persuaded him to move to her hometown Cleveland.
The couple raised twin daughters, now age 18 and attending college, as he worked in marketing and public relations businesses, then started his own firm, Business Communication Solutions Inc., in 2001.
In looking back on his 20-year military career, the retired Navy Reserve commander mused, “I loved it. It was a real opportunity for me. I got to use my education and travel to a lot of places that most people never get to see.
“I met a lot of really, really good people, and built a career out of it,” he added. “What more can you ask for in life, right?”
There are times when he vividly remembers the Beirut bombing, particularly on Oct. 23 anniversaries. “I still have nightmares once in a while but I don’t obsess over it,” Rosenberg said.
There were lessons learned that bloody day. “I think we learned that we had to be more on guard than we had, up to that point,” Rosenberg said.
And perhaps what the Marines learned that day in the rubble of their barracks in Beirut, the rest of America caught up with 18 years later when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center in New York.
“Now we know that anything’s possible,” Rosenberg said. “There’s no such thing as a safe haven if there’s somebody willing to give up their life to kill or hurt you for a cause.”