PORTSMOUTH — On every Oct. 23 for more than three decades, they’ve been filling the pews in the upstairs meeting room of the Portsmouth Historical Society to honor soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The 34th annual Beirut Memorial Service was held Monday morning to honor the “Rhode Island Nine” and 232 other U.S. service men and women who were killed during a terrorist bombing in 1983 while on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
“Oct. 23, 1983 was the bloodiest day for Rhode Island men in uniform since the Civil War, so it’s very important that Oct. 23 not go unrecognized,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of several speakers at the event.
Early on that Sunday morning 34 years ago, a yellow Mercedes stake-bed truck crashed into the lobby of the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines before the driver detonated a suicide bomb. FBI forensics experts later determined the bomb was the equivalent to about 12,000 pounds of T.N.T. and was the largest non-nuclear blast to date. Across town, a second suicide attack killed 56 French soldiers.
The nine Marines from Rhode Island who perished included two brothers-in-law: Cpl. Stephen E. Spencer, 23, of Portsmouth; and Lance Cpl. James F. Silvia, 20, of Middletown. Also killed were PFC Thomas Julian, 21, a 1979 graduate of Portsmouth High School; Cpl. Edward Soares Jr., 21, of Tiverton; and Sgt. Timothy Giblin of Providence, Cpl. David C. Massa of Warren, Cpl. Thomas A. Shipp of Woonsocket, Cpl. Rick R. Crudale West Warwick and Cpl. Edward S. Iacovino Jr. of Warwick.
Family members of the deceased placed carnations that represented each Marine in a wreath that was later laid at a memorial outside the building, while “Taps” was played by a member of Navy Band Northeast.
“My grandmother was a Gold Star mom and I know that all her days she treasured her lost son in her heart, just as I know you treasure your loss loved ones in your hearts for all your days. This is just the one chance we can join you and say, ‘We remember,’” said Sen. Whitehouse.
The guest speaker was USMC Lt. Col. Jason Borovies, a student at the Naval War College in Newport who was deployed to Iraq four times and has spent 20 years in the military.
On that October day 34 years ago, “Rhode Island suffered the largest proportionate share” of the fatalities than any other state. He urged attendees not to think of them “as statistics but as the special men that they were,” who served “above self” and tried to provide peace for those who needed it.
Planning for the futures
Lt. Col Borovies spoke briefly about each of the deceased.
Cpl. Crudale, just 21 years old, “was pictured on the cover of Time magazine just 20 days before the bombing.”
Cpl. Soares had been a member of his high school’s reserve officers training program. A cook in the Marines, he was planning on marrying his girlfriend Lisa, another Tiverton native, the following year.
Cpl. Silvia, who played football and ran track at Middletown High School, was also a cook in the Marines and was planning on entering culinary school after service.
His brother-in-law, Cpl. Spencer, was from Florida but moved to Portsmouth just after marrying Lynne Silvia in May 1983 — “only one day before his deployment to Beirut at the age of 23.”
Lance Cpl. Julian, a Portsmouth High grad, served as an acolyte at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and was a Boy Scout. “I recently found out that he used to cut the grass at this building during his childhood,” said Lt. Col. Borovies.
He and another speaker, John E. Odegaard, chief of staff to the secretary of the Navy, also paid tribute to the survivors of the Beirut attack.
“At the sound of the blast, they risked their lives in trying to save the lives of those who were in peril inside. They were heroes as well,” said Mr. Odegaard, adding that those serving in uniform today are modeling themselves after the Rhode Island Nine. “They’ll be forever young in our minds and in our hearts.”
Major Gen. Christopher Callahan, adjutant general and commanding general of the Rhode Island National Guard, struck a similar theme.
“The legacy of what your children, your brothers and your sons left behind is very strong and you should be very proud of what they established,” he said.
‘You inspire us’
Kasim Yarn, director of Rhode Island Veteran Affairs, spoke directly to the Gold Star Family members, most of whom were in reserved seats up front. “When I get downtrodden, all I have to do is look for a Gold Star Family. You inspire us as a state to continue to fight for you on your behalf,” said Mr. Yarn, who read a proclamation on behalf of Gov. Gina Raimondo.
“Freedom is not free. Our brothers and sisters made sacrifices across the world so we could be here today,” Mr. Yarn said.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline said the fallen Marines’ sacrifice will never be forgotten. “No sacrifice is greater than to lay down your life for service to your country,” he said.
Chaplain Lt. Commander Robert Lancia (USN, retired) gave the invocation and benediction. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Porto, USMC, Marine Corps Detachment Newport, served as narrator for the event. The event was also attended by three state lawmakers — Sen. James Seveney, Sen. Walter Felag and Rep. Kenneth Mendonca — and other dignitaries.
Charlie Masterson was one of the main organizers for the event.