Death of Marine commander scarred by 1983 Beirut bombing serves as reminder of risks US troops stationed in Middle East still face

Mireille Rebeiz, Dickinson College, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

Gen. Alfred M. Gray Jr., who died on March 20, 2024, at the age of 95, was seen as a legend for his heroism in combat.

But despite his military success, Gray, who went on to serve as the 29th commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991, will always be associated with one of the darkest days in U.S. military history: the Beirut barracks bombing on Oct. 23, 1983. The terrorist attack killed more than 300 people, including 241 U.S. service personnel under Gray’s command, although he was stateside at the time of the attack.

As a scholar currently doing research for a project on that attack, I can’t help but note that Gray’s death comes amid a surge of violence in Lebanon and at a time when U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East are again being targeted by Islamist groups funded by Iran.

Gray’s experience with U.S. involvement in Lebanon underscores the dangers American troops face when deployed to volatile areas.

On June 4, 1981, he was assigned to command the 2nd Marine Division and all the battalions that went into a war-torn Lebanon from 1982 to 1984.

By then, the country’s civil war had been raging for six years. It began on April 13, 1975, and, similar to the upsurge in violence in Lebanon now, it was fueled by events south of the country’s border.


Palestinians expelled or fleeing from what became Israel in 1948 ended up as refugees in neighboring countries, including Lebanon. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded to represent the Palestinian people and fight Israeli occupation. By the mid-1970s, over 20,000 PLO fighters were in Lebanon and launching attacks on Israel.

But their presence in Lebanon led to violence between Lebanese Christians and Lebanese and Palestinian Muslims. While some in Lebanon wanted peace with Israel, others wanted to fight for the Palestinian cause.

Several gruesome massacres marked the first five years of the civil war. In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee, invaded Lebanon and occupied Beirut with the intention of destroying PLO forces.

The Lebanese authorities called on Western powers for help. In August 1982, the governments of the United States, France, Italy and the U.K. created a multinational peacekeeping force designed to restore peace and stop the fighting between the Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis.


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