“Nobody loves peace more than the soldier, for in war he pays the biggest price.”
–Attributed to Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC
Over the course of my relatively short life (my 49th birthday is in less than two weeks) we as a nation have been in a combat posture for most of it. As I mulled that over, I thought about and made a list of the places where the US has sent a military presence or already had one when we had people become subject to hostile fire and, in many cases, be injured or killed. It is as follows:
- Operation Mayaguez/Koh Tang Island
- Operation Eagle Claw, Iran
- Lebanon War (Lebanese Civil War, Phase III)
- Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada
- Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm
- Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia
- U.S. Embassy Bombings, Tanzania and Kenya
- The events of September 11, 2001
Notice I have Libya listed twice. If you don’t remember, we bombed Libya back in 1986 in retaliation for a bombing of a night club in what was then West Berlin where American service personnel were injured. That bombing was attributed to Khadafi’s regime and was cited as the last of a list of incidents that started in 1981 with an air combat incident in the Gulf of Sidra where Libyan jets tried to pick a fight with American Navy F-14’s. As I recall, they lost.
There are a couple of places listed where I am intimately familiar with what happened. I’m referring to the civil war in Lebanon, for one – in 1983 US Marines and Navy SEALs were sent to Lebanon as “peacekeepers”, along with British, French, and Italian forces, to help oversee the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. A major part of the reason this happened was due to an agreement with Israel, who had Beirut surrounded and, for lack of a better word, besieged. Gradually, the Marines, who were mostly positioned in a warehouse building at the Beirut International Airport, were subjected to increased hostility from those supporting the PLO (mainly Druze and Shiite militias supported by Syria and Iran). The climax of this hostility happened on October 23, 1983, when the barracks where the Marines were located, as well as the headquarters of the French airborne regiment in Beirut, were destroyed by suicide bombers. 241 Marines and 58 French paratroopers were killed in these bombings.
It was the biggest loss of life for the Marine Corps up to that time since the battle of Iwo Jima. And for me it was personal; six of the Marines who were killed were people I knew. And a week prior, one of my friends who was there was shot and killed by a sniper.
I have a friend, a retired Army officer, who led troops on Grenada when we landed there. He told me that it wasn’t the Grenadian military or police that they had to worry about; it was the Cuban regulars who engaged them.
Panama was much more difficult than the media reported; remember that the US trained many of Panama’s military officers as well as troops, and for many years we had a presence there (Howard AFB, Fort Clayton, the Rodman Naval Station, etc.) until 1999. All of the facilities – I believe there was 15 US installations total – were affected by what happened, as were the people, both military and civilian, caught in the middle.
The reason I mentioned all of the above is to remind us all that our young men and women have been sent to places that the vast majority of the rest of us can’t even imagine going to. Many have had to become active combatants. A number of them have died. And we all know people, especially recently, who have either been wounded or killed in the current operations we are involved in, or we know others who have children, spouses, or parents who are there now serving. Whether you agree or disagree about whether our leaders are doing the right things, when it comes down to our troops it doesn’t really matter. They serve to protect the rest of us. And on this Memorial Day, please keep that in mind.