Paying tribute to lost soldiers
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS William Gaddes of Lake Hauto, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, addresses the crowd at the Coaldale Veterans Memorial Garden Wednesday morning.
At 10:30 a.m. Oct. 23, 1983, Frank Navratil was on guard duty in Beirut, Lebanon, about two miles from the U.S. Marine headquarters building when a truck loaded with explosives rammed into it, killing 241 men.
On Wednesday, Navratil, now retired from the Marines, stood listening quietly as the attack was recounted at a ceremony held in the Coaldale Veteran's Memorial Garden.
"I saw smoke," the Coaldale resident said of that morning 30 years ago. "I was actually supposed to be there (in the headquarters) that morning."
But his guard duty replacement was late, and the attack happened as Navratil waited for the other man to arrive. He lost friends in the blast, including Gunnery Sgt. Matilde Hernandez Jr., of Austin, Texas.
The ceremony, done by the Coaldale United Veterans Organization, drew a crowd that lined the garden walkway, which is composed of bricks bearing the names of those who served in the military. Five years ago, veterans placed a plaque on the Iwo Jima mural in the Veterans Garden to mark the 25th anniversary of the attack.
William Gaddes, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, served as master of ceremonies.
"We are gathered here today to pay tribute to and to honor the 222 U.S. Marines and 19 U.S. Navy corpsmen who gave their lives in a terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon," he said.
"This tragedy remains the single largest loss of U.S. Marine lives on one day since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. It is fitting that we take the time to reminisce and to honor not only those who died, but those who loved and prayed for their safe return from harm's way," Gaddes said.
He included the mothers of the slain soldiers in his remarks.
"We especially honor the 241 Gold Star Mothers of these fallen heroes," he said.
"Unfortunately, our Lord deemed that these young heroes would give their lives for our freedom. We must not forget that we have lost some of our finest. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever set off on this planet. The rubble cried and moaned for two days, as ambulances, fire trucks, heavy equipment and rescue personnel were virtually non-existent, or deliberately not made available in Beirut," he said.
"The Marines and the Navy were also overwhelmed; and had difficulty marshaling the required rescue effort. This was not only tragic, but near criminal," Gaddes said.
After he spoke, Panther Valley Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp cadet Megan Thomas read a detailed history of the Marines, and cadet Gabrielle Virno placed flowers at the foot of the Battlefield Cross.
The Rev. Daniel Matthewson of St. Mary Orthodox Church blessed five flags representing each branch of service before they were raised by JROTC cadets under the direction of their instructor, Sgt. Joseph Jordan.
Navratil, who stood next to his wife, Lynn, during the ceremony, wasgrateful for the acknowledgment.
"I think it's wonderful," he said. "We're finally getting some recognition and support."