The '58 Invasion of Beirut (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Turning the clock back 50 years, when Washington invoked the Eisenhower Doctrine and sent in the Marines to thwart the forces of international communism in Lebanon As Hizballah demonstrated its political and military dominance over Lebanon in early May, it's doubtful that anyone in the Bush Administration seriously even entertained the thought that American military intervention was called for. Although the Lebanese proxy of the Iranian and Syrian arms of the Axis of Evil was consolidating its strategic grip on the Land of the Cedars, the United States, heavily committed in Iraq, could hardly contemplate getting involved in another Middle Eastern adventure. And yet, twice before in the last 50 years, American presidents have sent in the Marines to save the situation in Lebanon. In 1982, after the Israeli invasion and the siege of Beirut, Ronald Reagan dispatched them as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force. That mission ended in tragedy, after a Hizballah suicide bomber drove a truck into the Marine barracks in October 1983, killing 241 U.S. personnel. The earlier Marine intervention took place almost 50 years ago, when Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the doctrine bearing his name and acted to thwart a perceived communist threat - in the form of Nasserite Pan-Arab nationalism - in the Middle East. It was July 15, 1958, and Second Lt. Simon L. Leis Jr. was nervous. As he waited for orders aboard the Sixth Fleet's Amphibious Force Flagship USS Taconic, he peered across the rough waters of the Mediterranean towards the yellow sands of Khalde beach, just five miles south of Beirut. Like the other members of the U.S. Marine Corps aboard the Taconic that day, Leis was preparing for battle. Briefed to expect the possibility of a hostile reception, the young leatherneck from Cincinnati, Ohio, knew little of the complexities surrounding the Lebanese crisis that the U.S. intervention was meant to help solve. But, when the call to serve finally came, he was ready. As whoops of anticipation and nervous tension rang out across the ship's sun-scorched deck, Leis, together with his comrades from the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment, clambered into a landing craft and set off to assault "Red Beach" at Khalde, some 500 yards from their position. "We left for the beach at three o'clock in the afternoon," recalls Leis, then an English and History graduate fresh out of Xavier University, Ohio. "And that was the first time in the history of the Marine Corps that a landing was started in the middle of the afternoon. Landings like this were always done first thing in the morning, which gave us all day to unload the ships. Nevertheless, we were told that we were going into combat, and so that's what we expected." Leis speaks to The Report from his offices in Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ohio, where he serves as sheriff. After his discharge, he went on to gain a doctorate in law, and served as a public prosecutor and city solicitor until assuming his position as sheriff. At 23 years old, Leis was one of the oldest members of the landing force. He didn't have long to muse, and what little time he did have was spent thinking about home. "I'd been a married man for only about two months before being shipped out," he remembers, then on his first military campaign. "And as the landing craft surged towards the beach, I thought, 'Hell, I'm too young to die!' I mean, I didn't know what married life was all about." What awaited Leis, and some 2,000 other fellow Marines, however, was a welcome of a sort never experienced by the Corps in any operation, since its first amphibious landing in the Bahamas in 1776. As the steel ramps of the landing craft hit the shore and the young, adrenaline-fueled Marines stormed the beach, their anxiety was tempered by the sight of bikini-clad girls and other sunbathers, ice-cream vendors and hordes of kids, all bewildered and excited by the appearance of a large, heavily armed body of men. Onlookers waved and cheered as the men - sweltering under the 90-degree heat - scrambled up the glistening shore, heading for their target - Beirut International Airport, carrying some 90 pounds of battle gear each, including Tommy guns, grenades and bazookas, and surrounded by the roar of amphibious tractors and the thunder of naval planes overhead. The surreal nature of the landing was compounded by peddlers touting souvenirs and by the local boys who made for the water's edge and tried to help the Marines drag their equipment through the surf. As described by Jack Shulimson, from the Historical Branch, G-3 Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, in a written history of the Marine Corps'participation in the Lebanon crisis, the perplexing scene prompted one Marine to observe: "It's better than Korea, but what the hell is it?" Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.