In October of 1983 the then young Lance Cpl. Charles Anderson was nearing the end of his first deployment to Beirut, Lebanon.
Anderson was an 0341 mortarman and part of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines 81mm mortar platoon.
The battalion had deployed to Lebanon with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit and was part of a peace keeping force hoping to bring an end to the Lebanese Civil War.
Anderson said he saw sporadic combat during the deployment, adding that the barracks and Marine positions around the Beirut airport would routinely receive poorly aimed small arms, rocket propelled grenade and mortar fire.
“It just a trickle of fire,” Anderson said Friday afternoon.
But nothing prepared him for the early morning of Oct. 23, 1983, when a yellow 19-ton Mercedes truck crashed through the lobby of the Marine barracks and set off large explosion.
The blast killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers.
It was the deadliest day for the Corps since the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
Anderson was in a fighting position with his platoon on the side of the airport strip when he heard the explosion.
At first, he believed a random mortar or artillery shell had hit a plane, but all he could see were two mushroom shaped clouds of dust.
The Marines at the fighting position quickly pulled out their binoculars to get a closer look.
“We were like ‘oh my goodness’ and the building was gone,” Anderson said.
“We got to get to the building, we got to get to the building,” he remembers hearing from his platoon’s fighting position.
It was just happenstance that Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, assistant chaplain for the U.S. Sixth Fleet, was in Beirut that day.
The rabbi arrived in the country on two days prior to the bombing to lead a memorial service for Jewish Marine Sgt. Alan Soifert who was killed by a sniper in Lebanon earlier that month.
The Marines offered to fly Resnicoff out of the country on Oct. 22, but the devout rabbi turned down the travel offer because it was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Resnicoff planned to stay in pastor Danny Wheeler’s room that night, the Lutheran chaplain for 1/8, but at the last minute he chose to stay with Catholic chaplain Father George Pucciarelli, in a building next to the barracks.
“That may have saved my life,” Resnicoff said.
When the bomb went off, Resnicoff, veteran of Vietnam, said he hit the deck.
Pucciarelli realized what happened first and told Resnicoff to follow him towards the rubble that moments earlier had house roughly 1,800 Marines.
“He put the little purple stole around his neck because he knew he was going to be saying last rites,” Resnicoff said.
“We saw this horrendous, horrendous site,” Resnicoff said. “The building was rubble there were so many bodies and pieces of bodies.”
The Marines in Anderson’s platoon started pulling people from the building and collecting body parts directed by a French sergeant major who was part of the international peace keeping coalition.
“All of us were shocked, mad, numb,” Anderson said.
“It was really unbelievable,” he added.
Resnicoff tore up his white undershirt to provide makeshift bandages and clean up the faces of injured Marines, the rabbi told Marine Corps Times.
When he ran out of shirt he used his Kippah, a customary cap for Jewish men.
Seeing Resnicoff without his Kippah, Pucciarelli tore a piece of cloth off of his camouflaged cover to act as a makeshift Kippah as they both sought to assist the wounded and provide final comforts to those who were dying of their wounds.
“He said to me, ‘in this country every religion is gunning for every other religion.’ He wanted every Marine to know that we chaplains were not only trying to help everyone, but we did it side-by-side Jewish and Christian,” Resnicoff said.
Eventually, Anderson the Marines in his platoon started to make a list of everyone in their unit they knew were in the building so they could get an idea of who was missing, who survived and who did not.
As the rescue operation wore on Resnicoff started to look for Wheeler. The Lutheran chaplain had been in his room on the top floor of the barracks when the bomb hit.
“We thought he was dead,” Resnicoff recalled.
After about five and half hours the rabbi finally saw his colleague pulled out of the rubble alive.
“We literally cried when Danny was dug up,” he said.
He was the last survivor pulled from the building.
A few days after the attack Anderson was able to call his wife, who was waiting at home terrified about the fate of her husband.
“That was great,” Anderson said.
“When I called it was a blessing… it was a big relief,” he added.
As those on the ground began to fully understand the scale of the loss, Resnicoff and the other chaplain tried to comfort the survivors.
“I tried to convince the survivors that they had been chosen in someway to remember those who had died that day,” the rabbi said.
Anderson said the bombing ended all cliques within the battalion and solidified the bonds forged by the Marines in the unit.
“When the building went up those groups were eliminated in 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, we became one, truly one blood,” he said.
He still regularly talks to the Marines he met in that unit nearly 40 years ago.
Though most Marines still learn about the Beirut bombing in boot camp, Anderson said most people out of the Corps have long forgotten that tragic day, including one of his Veterans Affairs doctors.
“There was nothing in the books about Beirut… it’s like it was pushed under the table” he said.
Indiana Republican Rep. Greg Pence introduced a House Resolution in 2020 to designate October 23 as a National Day of Remembrance.
That resolution never made it out of committee.
He reintroduced the resolution on May 25, 2021.
The new resolution has yet to receive a vote.
“We have been really put down, swept under the table” Anderson said about how forgotten the bombing has become.