Father Philip Salois, the retired chief of chaplain service at VA Boston Healthcare System who served as a U.S. Army infantryman in 1969-1970 in Vietnam, gives the invocation at the 40th anniversary Beirut Memorial Service at the Portsmouth Historical Society on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. In left foreground recording with her smartphone is Kathy Calabro of Cranston, whose brother U.S. Marine Sgt.Timothy Giblin of Providence, was one of nine Rhode Island Marines killed in the 1983 terrorist attack. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)
One 1st Congressional District candidate stood along the banks of the Blackstone River in Pawtucket Monday morning, the sound of flowing water from the nearby historic mills setting a peaceful tone.
Heavy traffic rushed by the outdoor scene 40 miles away where his opponent attended a somber ceremony to remember one of the darkest days in U.S. Marine Corps’ history.
Which candidate was where?
Republican nominee Gerry Leonard served in the Marines for 30 years in Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and typically invokes his military experience in his public appearances. But he spent Monday morning unveiling his new economic plan at Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket.
Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Gabe Amo, who grew up in Pawtucket, attended the 40th anniversary Beirut Memorial Service outside the Portsmouth Historical Society where a crowd of 100 people honored nine fallen Rhode Island Marines. Many of those present were Gold Star family members who placed flowers in a wreath and participated in the wreath laying.
On Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives through the gates at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon, and blew up a Marine barracks. In total, 241 American military personnel were killed in the explosion. Minutes later, another suicide bomber drove a truck into the barracks of a French paratrooper detachment in West Beirut. The French military was part of the same multinational peacekeeping force sent to Lebanon during the country’s long civil war. A total of 58 French troops and six civilians died in that second attack.
The death toll from that day was the Marine Corps’ highest since Iwo Jima in 1945. It also gave Rhode Island the solemn distinction of being the U.S. state with the most deaths of Marines per capita.
About 100 people attended Monday’s ceremony, including Gov. Dan McKee and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. State Reps. Samuel A. Azzinaro, D-Westerly, who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Michelle McGaw, D-Portsmouth, also attended.
Fifteen students from A-Venture Academy in Providence also came to pay their respects. Some of the students stood with American flags for a second color guard behind one from the U.S. Marines stationed in Newport.
“Rhode Island Nine and their ultimate sacrifice is something that lives in the memories of so many throughout our community, and I thought it was important to recognize that,” Amo told Rhode Island Current after the nearly hourlong ceremony ended.
Leonard, in Pawtucket, said he had “a commitment somewhere else,” but did not say what that obligation was. His news conference was scheduled for 10:15 a.m. The Portsmouth ceremony was scheduled at 10 a.m.
“I would have loved to make it,” he said when Rhode Island Current asked him why he held his event at the same time.
“We lost hundreds of United States Marines that were out in the front defending our nation,” Leonard added. “I think it’s indicative of an environment that exists in the Middle East that we ought to play a role in fixing.”
Azzinaro chaired the commission that led the effort to establish a Rhode Island Nine Beirut Memorial on the Providence River on Dyer Street in Providence where a candlelight vigil was held Sunday night. He said he does not know the Republican candidate but was surprised that Leonard was absent from the Portsmouth ceremony.
“I did know Gabe was there because he came up and shook my hand,” Azzinaro said.
Leonard “needs to pay attention to things like this, especially when the Marine Corps is involved,” he said.
Who were ‘The Nine’?
In 1984, the Portsmouth Garden Club established a memorial to honor the Rhode Island Nine on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society. One of the service members was Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Julian, who used to mow the grass on the property before he joined the Marines. He was 21 years old when he died in the bombing.
Cpl. Rick R. Crudale, 21, from West Warwick, appeared on the cover of TIME just three weeks before the bombing. His funeral was held in the same church where he was married the previous spring. There was also Cpl. Edward Soares Jr., 21, of Tiverton, who was planning to get engaged to his girlfriend Lisa when he came home for Christmas.
Two of the Marines were brothers-in-law. Cpl. James F. Silvia, 20, played football and ran track as a Middletown High School student. His sister Lynne was married to Cpl. Stephen E. Spencer, 23, a Florida native.
Cpl. David C. Massa, 21, of Warren was born in Portugal and immigrated with his family to America when he was 4 years old. Cpl. Edward Iacovino Jr., 20, of Warwick, had recently re-enlisted in the Marines, figuring he was better off careerwise in the service that trained him as a mechanic.
Cpl. Thomas A. Shipp, 28, of Woonsocket was married and had enlisted in the Marine Corps the year before after serving six years in the Coast Guard. Sgt. Timothy Giblin, 20, of Providence, was married and the youngest of 11 kids.
“Forty years ago today, a terrorist attack took the lives of hundreds of men in the American and French compounds of the multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut,” said Father Philip Salois, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran who delivered the invocation for the Portsmouth ceremony. “They came in peace to a land of war.”
Leonard talks policy, Israel
With just two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, Leonard debuted his economic plan Monday on the anniversary of the bombings. He’s calling for two new vocational high schools in the state — something he said could improve gaps in the workforce.
“By building a larger skilled labor pool, we will encourage the formation of new businesses and attract more manufacturers and job creators to the Ocean State,” Leonard said. “Together we can make Rhode Island the most competitive economy in New England, just like we were in the days when this mill sparked a revolution.”
Leonard said he plans to form a national commission on fiscal responsibility that would focus on reducing the national deficit — something that also happened during the Obama administration in 2010.
Wearing a joint Israeli-American flag pin on the lapel of his suit jacket, Leonard’s press conference then shifted to the escalating crisis between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
It’s a conflict that is personal for Leonard’s family. He said that his son was vacationing in Europe with his best friend, who is a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
“He was recalled,” Leonard said of his son’s friend. “He sits right next to Gaza right now and I pray for him and his family.”
Leonard acknowledged the difference between Hamas fighters and civilians in Gaza, saying that the radical militants have “had their boot on the neck of their fellow Palestianians.” But he did not support a ceasefire between the IDF and Hamas fighters.
“I absolutely believe that the Israeli government and IDF have every right to dismantle Hamas so it stops being a threat to Jewish folks and it stops being a threat to Palestinian folks,” he said.
He added that the Israeli forces have “shown extreme restraint in not going into Gaza yet” and called on Egypt and other neighboring countries to facilitate the evacuation of Palestinian refugees.
“Everyone talks about this ‘Israeli blockade’ on Gaza — but it’s not just an Israeli Blockade,” Leonard said. “Egypt’s been involved in this since the beginning.”
Marine officer delivers keynote
At the memorial service, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Patrick Hassett, described the lessons he had learned as a young lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (1-8) during his keynote address. Known as “The Beirut Battalion, 1-8 sustained the majority of casualties on the day the barracks was bombed. At one point, Hassett had to pause to wait for a noisy truck to pass by on East Main Road.
“Because of 1-8, I learned the requirements of a leader to sacrifice your mind, your body, your self, your time and everything else you have short of your integrity and your honor for your enlisted Marines,” Hassett said.
“Because of 1-8, I learned that every generation has their moment coming whether they know it or not.”
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