It is remembered by many, including the families of 241 U.S. military personnel killed that day, as the day the war on terror began; recalled in letters home by one Hope solider who saw the carnage but returned to Arkansas safely.
The Oct. 23, 1983, terrorist bombing of the U. S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was the first instance in which American military personnel were specifically targeted in terrorist attacks that have now become known as Islamic jihad, or Islamic holy war.
Marine Lance Corporal Coy Lee Stone recalled the day in letters to his brother, Travis Stone, now of Texarkana, and Karen (Stone) Dougan, of Hope.
“Sunday, the 23rd of October, around 6:15 a.m., our battalion headquarters building was blown all to hell,” Coy wrote in an Oct. 26, 1983, letter to Karen. “It's only ¼ of a mile from our position. I was there only the day before it happened. I had a lot of friends that died there. I only remember the smile on their faces the day before they all were killed.”
The battalion headquarters building and barracks was a converted four-story hotel.
“Some crazy ----, driving a truck busted through the gate and drove right into the lobby with 2,000 pounds of explosives, and detonated it,” Coy wrote. “We rushed over as soon as it happened, the building was leveled, bodies were laying all over the place; arms, legs, heads.”
Four hundred U. S. Marines were housed in the barracks; 220 were killed and 21 other military personnel died in the explosion, as well as 58 French soldiers in a separate attack. Later accounts reported the force of the explosion as equal to 12,000 pounds of TNT.
“We have 20 days left here, if we get relieved on time,” Coy wrote. “Man, I can't wait to get back.”
That would be difficult, however, given that most of the records in the barracks were destroyed in the explosion, he pointed out in the same letter.
Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush toured the blast site on the day Coy wrote his sister.
“He was very angry at what they had done to us,” he wrote. “They think it was Iranians or Soviet-backed people.”
The man behind the plan for the attack was Hossein Dehghan, at that time a Hezbollah commander overseeing operations in Lebanon, who later joined the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, rising to the rank of brigadier general, and was nominated in October to become the new defense minister of Iran, according to a report by Ariel Ben Solomon in The Jerusalem Post online.
“It was from a base in the Beqaa valley where Iran planned, along with Hezbollah, attacks against the Multinational Force and IDF soldiers in Lebanon,” Ben Solomon writes. “In 1983, two separate suicide bombings killed 241 US Marines and 58 French soldiers in their respective barracks in Beirut.”
Page 2 of 2 - In an Oct. 27, 1983, letter to his 22-year old brother Travis, Coy, who was 23-years old at the time, wrote, “Travis, I had a lot of friends killed there; I hope you never have to go through anything like that.”
Travis, at the time was working for Hope Water and Light Corp. he said in an interview with the Hope Star. Travis said he felt his brother might have had forebodings about the attack, based upon a letter he wrote on Oct. 14, 1983.
“Last night, we had som small rifle fire near our position with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades),” he wrote. “They were trying to hit the fuel depot for the helicopters.”
Coy Stone passed away in 2010 in Texarkana. He had returned home to work at various occupations, eventually settling in Texarkana employed by Southern Refrigerated Transportation as a trainer for truck drivers. But he had originally planned a career in the military because he was eventually discharged from the Marine Corps as a sergeant, Travis said.
Coy was assigned to a 155 mm Howitzer field artillery unit while in Lebanon, according to a December, 1983, Hope Star interview.
“He liked to lead; he was that kind of person,” Travis said. “He didn't talk too much about it; and, sometimes, I wish I had talked to him more about it.”
Travis said that may have been due to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, a problem which affected many U.S. service personnel at the time.
“I think he had an intention of making a career out of the military, but because of the bombing, I think that changed his mind,” Troy said. “I think he had a better perspective about what was going on than most average people would, having been there. I think he had a lot of respect for anyone in the military, because he knew what they were going through. He was a tough person.”