Families of Beirut bomb victims mark 30th anniversary of first major terrorist attack on US

By Cristina Corbin
Published October 23, 2013FoxNews.com


It was Oct. 21, 1983, when the parents of Lt. William Scott Sommerhof received a letter from the 25-year-old Marine serving in Beirut, who wrote of his excitement to be returning home soon and who had already begun his Christmas shopping.

Two days later, Sommerhof and 240 other Americans were killed when suicide bombers detonated two trucks of explosives at military barracks in Lebanon in what many consider the first major terrorist attack against the U.S. For the families of those killed, three decades and many more terror attacks have not diminished the memory of soldiers and sailors who paid the ultimate price in the savage salvo that ushered in an age of terror.
"He was an angel, he truly was," Jocelyn Sommerhof, of Evansville, Ill., said on the thirtieth anniversary of her son's death. "Even from the time he was a little boy, he looked up to the military."
"He was an angel, he truly was."
- Jocelyn Sommerhof, mother of Marine killed in 1983 attack in Beirut

At 6:22 a.m. on Oct. 23, a 19-ton, yellow, Mercedes-Benz stake-bed truck made its way toward the Beirut International Airport, where the U.S. 24th Marine Amphibious Unit was deployed. The driver, an Iranian national named Ismail Ascari, drove onto an access road leading to the compound, accelerating at great speed before crashing into a wire barrier separating the parking lot from the building.
The truck continued to barrel through the compound, eventually crashing into the lobby of the building that served as the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines. The force of the blast collapsed the four-story building, killing many Americans instantly and crushing others inside.
Less than 10 minutes later, a second pickup truck exploded outside the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment in West Beirut.
In total, 241 Americans were killed along with 58 French paratroopers, who shot at the second bomber as he approached their compound, likely killing him before his remote-controlled bomb detonated. The forces were part of a multinational team of American, British, French and Italian soldiers who were sent to Beirut to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces during the Lebanese Civil War. Their deployment followed massacres by militiamen at two refugee camps.
The bombings were blamed on the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.
"I'd like to think that people will always remember this day," Sommerhof said, "Because it was the first horrific act of terrorism that this country ever faced."
Surivors, family members and supporters have long lobbied for an official postage stamp commemorating those who died in the attack. To date, the U.S. Postal Service and the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee have not agreed, although a private vendor stamp created by the group is approved for use as postage by the USPS.
At Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, N.C., military officials marked the anniversary Wednesday morning with a ceremony at the camp's Beirut Memorial. The special ceremony also honored other fallen service members and survivors who served in Lebanon from 1958 to 1984 and in Grenada. Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, was the featured speaker.
For Sommerhof, such recognition of her son's service helps keep his memory alive.
"He was a good student and fun loving," Sommerhof said of her son, who graduated the University of Illinois, where he went through the school's ROTC program. She said her son, who went by "Scott," admired two uncles who had long served in the military.
"They were heroes to him," she said.