The Marines in Beirut, August 1982 - February 1984

by Eric Hammel

Facing northward out of a second-deck window, the lance corporal was hurled through the window and out into mid-air. He fell thirty feet to the ground and landed on his feet. He was not harmed until falling debris struck him on the head and shoulders. Nearly every other member of the recon platoon in his compartment was killed in the inferno.

At 6:22 A.M. on October 23, 1983, a yellow Mercedes truck raced across the parking lot of the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon. Crashing through a chain-link gate into the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit’s headquarters compound, it raced on careening through a shack and into the open atrium lobby of a terminal building where the men were housed, many still asleep.
The truck lurched to a stop. Seconds later, 12,000 pounds of high explosives piled in the bed of the truck exploded. The four-story steel and concrete building shuddered, then collapsed. Two hundred forty-one Americans were killed and many more were injured in the disaster.

Soon after the 24th MAU returned to the United States in November 1983, the Marine Corps granted Eric Hammel an unprecedented opportunity to interview survivors of the bombing and those who came to their rescue. The Root is the result of these interviews. It is a narrative account of the Marines’ mission in Lebanon, describing their escalating involvement in the largely unreported battles fought in and around the shattered city of Beirut. And it presents in detail the terrorist attack on the unit headquarters.

The focus of The Root is on the nearly 200 people interviewed by the author—enlisted men and officers—for whom the shock and horror at the bombing were still fresh. Their reactions to the danger, what they survived and how they survived it, their concerns and insights, make The Root a timeless chronicle of the human spirit—and as timely as today’s headlines.

Not to be missed in an age of war in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Includes an update written in 2007.