WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Each Sept. 11, Americans will commemorate one of the most tragic days in American history -- a day when 2,998 of our friends and neighbors were murdered by fanatic terrorists. It is a day that will not be forgotten because, for so many Americans, Sept. 11 marks the start of the war on terrorism.
But in fact, terrorists proclaimed war on Americans long before Sept. 11, 2001, and every time American interests are targeted by these fanatics, there is one American family which suffers casualties, or is called upon to retaliate, or both. That American family is the United States Marine Corps.
Among their many other duties, Marines have the unique honor and responsibility of providing security at American embassies around the world, where the sentries are ordered to "take charge of this post and all government property in view." Unfortunately, embassies tend to be a favorite target of terrorists. The Corps' history of fighting terrorists dates to 1804, when Marine 1st Lt. Presley O'Bannon led his men to defeat the Barbary Pirates.
But the modern day war on terrorism is often traced to Nov. 4, 1979, when Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took 66 Americans hostage -- 52 of whom would be held in captivity for 444 days. Four years later, on April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was attacked when a terrorist drove a pickup truck into the building, killing 63 people, 17 of whom were Americans.
Six months later, U.S. Marines who were helping to keep the peace in Lebanon were the target of what was -- prior to Sept. 11, 2001 -- the largest terrorist attack in American history. At 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1983, a homicide bomber crashed a large Mercedes truck, loaded with over 2,000 pounds of explosives, through a barbed wire fence and other barriers into the four-story headquarters of the Marine compound located at Beirut's airport. The attack killed 241 Marines, sailors and one soldier, who were members of Battalion Landing Team 1-8 of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, and instantly turned the building into a pile of rubble.
At the time, the world was a dangerous place -- as it is now. It was the height of the Cold War, and President Reagan had already branded the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire." One month before, the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner -- Flight 007 -- killing all 269 people on board, including 61 Americans, one of whom was U.S. Rep. Larry McDonald.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.