Two days after the Beirut bombing, Marines, along with other U.S. forces, landed on Grenada to rescue American medical students following a Marxist coup on the island. The threat of terrorism against Americans had become every bit as real as the dangers of the Cold War and Soviet expansion.
When the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) was ordered to Lebanon from its home at Camp LeJeune, N.C., it was the fourth such Marine unit to serve in the country since Sept. 1982. They were invited there as part of a Multinational Peacekeeping Force along with France, Italy and, later, Great Britain to help enforce a tenuous peace arrangement between the various factions in Lebanon. The Marines' mission was to control the area around the Beirut International Airport -- Lebanon's link to the outside world.
During better times, money from rich Arab states used to flow through the international banks in Beirut, and the city was known as the "Paris of the Middle East." But parts of the country were deteriorating, and outside the airport perimeter were slums that bred recruits for militant groups like Hezbollah, which was responsible for the Oct. 23 bombing.
Since 1983, Marines and other U.S. military personnel have been targeted by terrorists in Kuwait, Bogota, Madrid, San Salvador, Frankfurt, West Berlin, Riyadh, Dhahran, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Aden, to name a few. Yet they continue the fight, and today in Afghanistan and Iraq they are not only defending Americans from terrorists, but their presence has allowed citizens in those countries to escape repressive and torturous regimes.
The war against terror, as the president has repeatedly warned, will not be short in duration, as evidenced by next week's 20th commemoration of the bloodiest terrorist attack in U.S. history, prior to Sept. 11. On Oct. 23, Marines all over the world will take a moment to salute their comrades who were murdered 20 years earlier, and then they'll return to the fight until it is won.
Perhaps on that day, all Americans can take time to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions our fellow Marines have made to defend America's liberty throughout our history, particularly those who sacrificed their lives from Beirut to Baghdad to defend our nation and bring peace to a violent part of the world.
Semper Fidelis, Marines. Semper Fidelis.
Pete Stenner, a retired colonel, is a 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps and was the executive officer of the Battalion Landing Team 1-8 in Beirut.
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.