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Family awarded nearly $50 million for son’s death in 1983 Marine barracks terrorism case

Beirut_Memorial_(Jacksonville,_North_Carolina) (Leonard J. DeFrancisci/WikiCommons)

A U.S. district court judge has awarded Percy “Blackie” Trahan, a retired Lafayette barber, and the estates of his wife, Shirley, and son Lex, $49,658,756 in a case involving the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

Warren Perrin, the Lafayette attorney who handled the case for the Trahans, said the award was made last week by federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, an Obama administration appointee, in First District Court in Washington, D.C. He said the award can be collected, perhaps over many years, through existing Iranian accounts, including one in Luxembourg.

“I’ve talked with Blackie twice,” Perrin said. “He broke down crying twice. He was very happy.”

Trahan declined comment Saturday.

Perrin said Trahan will need some congressional action to help facilitate the award. He has contacted the offices of U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette.

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Higgins said Saturday that he personally fields all requests in his office from the elderly, military and first-responders. He said he would begin action on Trahan’s case as soon as he receives authorization from Trahan or his representative.

“We will get on it hard and fast within the parameters of our constitutional authority,” Higgins said.

The award culminated a court effort launched in 2016 to make the Iranian government pay for its state-sponsored act of terrorism, which occurred at 6:20 a.m. Oct. 23, 1983. The suit was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Perrin said collecting the award will be a “a long-term effort” from the U.S. Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism fund established by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The fund consists of penalties assessed against rogue entities such as banks, terrorists and governments. It was created after 9/11.

Lance Cpl. Lex Trahan, 19, a 1982 graduate of Comeaux High School, was stationed in Beirut with the Marines as part of a multinational peacekeeping mission to protect citizens there. He was a combat engineer.

His room was on the third floor of a four-story dormitory when a terrorist driving a truck loaded with some 2,500 pounds of explosives broke through steel fences and sandbags, creating an explosion that left a crater 30 feet deep and 40 feet wide.

The toll was the worst single-day loss for U.S. troops since Iwo Jima in World War II: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three U.S. soldiers. France also lost 60 people in the attack.

Percy and Shirley Trahan knew their son was in the area and waited several days before their only child’s death was confirmed. Perrin, who knew the Trahans personally through their participation in the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and Le Congrès Mondial Acadiens, said Mrs. Trahan never fully recovered from her grief.

“The house was like a shrine to their son,” Perrin said. “His wife never spent an hour of her life not suffering after this.” Mrs. Trahan died in 2019.

Suit was filed on Dec. 10, 2016, under Dibenedetto vs. Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of information and Security. Plaintiffs sought damages for wrongful death, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Iranian government, though served, did not respond.

The total payout to all plaintiffs was $337,910,952.66. Trahan and his family’s estates were awarded more than $11 million; the remainder was awarded for punitive damages.

Percy Trahan testified twice, by deposition in 2016 and affidavit in 2018; his wife also offered testimony, stating that “Percy never recovered and continued to struggle with his grief.” Parents and son were a traditional Cajun family, Perrin said, close-knit. The father often hunted and fished with his lone child.

“I’d say it’s been 33 years and it’s still hard,” Percy Trahan testified of the loss of his son in 2016. “It’s the hardest thing that ever happened to me.”

Lex Trahan played football at Comeaux and was planning to attend college after his military service. The goal: to be a mud engineer in the oil and gas industry. But first up was Marine service, which he entered right after high school graduation, training in California and in North Carolina before he left for Lebanon.

Testimony revealed he told friends before leaving, “I’m going to a rough spot.” He wanted to serve and asked his parents to not interfere with his decision. They didn’t.

“They were tormented. He begged them to do it,” Perrin said, recounting how much Lex Trahan wanted to be an active Marine.

After his death, his high school class set up a fund to put flowers on his grave annually on his birthday. The flowers continue to arrive every Jan. 14. Trahan is buried in Lafayette Memorial Park.

There is a memorial fund in his name at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where his mother worked.

Until her death, Lex’s mother continued to light candles in her home, located off Kaliste Saloom Road, in memory of her son. Each morning, Perrin said, Lex’s father raises the American flag on a flagpole by the driveway, in front of the home.

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