Adam Bolonyi remembers when the captain came over the ship’s intercom system and told sailors on the USS Tarawa they wouldn’t be going to a liberty port.
Instead, they were heading to Lebanon to support Marines engaged in a multinational peacekeeping mission.
“You could hear a pin drop,” he said. “Literally for 24 hours.”
That impromptu journey left an indelible mark on Bolonyi, a South Side resident who spent eight years in the U.S. Navy. He was part of the naval task force that provided transport and support for those Marines engaged in a peacekeeping effort overseeing the withdrawal of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon.
The Tarawa had assault capabilities but was primarily used as a troop transport in this case.
“The Marines, they’d say we were their ride,” Bolonyi said.
It was an inside joke, but it was no laughing matter on Oct. 23, 1983. That was the day that Bolonyi realized the Marines on shore wouldn’t be getting the ride home that they expected.
Bolonyi was onboard the Tarawa when an explosion shattered what peace existed in Lebanon at the time. Monday marks 40 years since terrorists detonated truck bombs at the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American service members as well as 58 from the French military.
For the Marines, it was the deadliest single-day attack since the battle of Iwo Jima
“It was very chaotic,” said Bolonyi, a Benton High School graduate. “I don’t want to say it was traumatizing to me. I felt bad that they were literally sitting ducks. The thing is, we weren’t there to fight as a collective unit. We were there to keep the peace.”
As the world still searches for peace in that region, Bolonyi believes it’s important to remember the sacrifice of 40 years ago.
“My goal here is for people to be aware of this situation, not to bring attention to myself,” he said. “To remember that this occurred because I don’t even know if in school, it’s in the history books. And I just think history has forgotten this occurrence, especially with what’s going on right now in Israel.”
The Marine Corps hasn’t forgotten what happened. An observance to mark the 40th anniversary of the bombing will be held at the Beirut Memorial, Lejeune Memorial Gardens, Monday at 9:30 a.m. in North Carolina. The event will be streamed at https://www.facebook.com/camp.lejeune/.
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