Thanks very much Lt. Gov. McKee for that welcome. Let me begin by thanking the Navy Band for that rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
Distinguished guests, veterans, and fellow Americans, good morning and welcome. I am honored to be here today as your Under Secretary of the Navy to honor the “Rhode Island Nine”, champions of freedom who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
On behalf of the men and women of our naval force, I want to recognize and thank the Gold Star families of these fallen heroes, who were able to attend the dedication today. Your presence here today reinforces the Marine Corp’s values of honor, courage and commitment that each Marine displayed back in 1983. We, along with a grateful nation, remain inspired by your strength and remarkable courage.
On this day, we honor and remember the nine Rhode Island Marines who perished while serving our country. The military personnel serving in Beirut were there to bring peace and stability to Lebanon after years of internal strife and conflict. On October 23, 1983, 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, lost their lives in a horrific suicide truck bombing. It was the deadliest single day for our Marine Corps since D-Day at Iwo Jima in 1945. The deadliest day for Rhode Island service members since the Civil War. And every one of them had a story.
Most of you know the names of the nine Marines who perished during the horrific terrorist attack that destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut. But beyond every name there is a story – a decision to serve, a commitment to peace and freedom, a family waiting anxiously at home.
Today we remember them not just as a group but as individuals:
While you all have ties to members of your community that were lost on that tragic day, I would like to take a moment to share a personal connection of mine. My good friend and fellow shipmate, retired Commander Eric Willenbrock, served aboard the battleship USS New Jersey, when it was stationed off the coast of Beirut. The ship’s mission was to provide Navy gunfire support and security to the Marines ashore during the peace-keeping mission. On the morning of October 23, USS New Jersey was approximately one mile off shore when the Marine Corps Battalion Landing Team was attacked and destroyed. Eric would share the experiences he gleaned throughout that deployment, which reside with him every day. He told me about the Marine Corps detachment on the ship that went ashore to provide security at the bombing site. And of the ship’s doctor and corpsman who went ashore to provide medical support. And he also told me about Mike Gorchinski, a chief petty officer electronic technician who had volunteered to provide technical assistance to the Marines three days prior to the bombing. He never made it out of the barracks that day.
I know Eric will be pleased that I shared his stories with you. It is important that we continue to tell the story of the men and women who support their country in uniform and for the gallant service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms that we hold so dear.
While today is an opportunity to reflect on the lives of those that were lost, it is also an opportunity to inspire new generations to understand the freedom they have been given, to grasp how and why it is theirs, and to dedicate themselves to pass it on to generations yet to come.
I am often asked by our fellow Americans how to appropriately honor our fallen. They wonder how they can best pay tribute to those laid to rest beneath our flag, so that we may stand freely beside it today. The dedication that takes place today is a wonderful example of ensuring the memories of these warriors continue to live on.
This memorial provides an everlasting symbol to the lives and accomplishments of the nine Rhode Island Marines who lost their lives in support of their country. It will symbolize how they stood with courage and memorialize their devotion to America and her principles.
The proud history of the U.S. military continues today as our service members risk their lives around the world to promote freedom and security and to deter terrorism. We are grateful for their sacrifices and honored by their commitment to defending our nation, our citizens, and our values.
May God give rest to our fallen and missing, solace to their families, and blessings to the United States of America.
The Honorable Gregory J. Slavonic
27 September 2020
04 December 2020
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