November 19, 2008 Edition

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Morgan attends event marking
anniversary of Beirut bombing

J.P. Morgan of Walnut Ridge (right) had a chance to visit with General James T. Conway (left), commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, during a recent event marking the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Marines' barracks in Beirut. Conway was born in Walnut Ridge.
Gloria Wilkerson
Gretchen Hunt
TD Staff

J.P. Morgan of Walnut Ridge was in Camp LeJune, N.C., Oct. 22-24 for the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Marines' barracks in Beirut. Morgan enlisted in the Marines in 1982 at the age of 17.

"Less than a year after I had joined the Corps, I was landing on the beach in Beirut, Lebanon," Morgan said. "We didn't know what to expect. We had heard everything from it was a piece of cake to it was a very dangerous situation. We learned it could be a little of both."

On April 18, 1983, Morgan, a sniper and the youngest Marine in Lebanon on the peacekeeping mission at the time, was among those who assisted following the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut.

"We received the call to mount up," he said. "The U.S. Embassy had been hit with a truck bomb, and I was on the first response team. We quickly gathered our necessary gear, boarded the truck and were hurried to the Embassy to secure it.

"To say that it was surreal is an understatement. The massive building was on fire, people were panicking all around and it was very difficult to tell who was friendly versus who was enemy. This made for a very stressful situation for a young 18 year old from Lynn, Arkansas. After many hours, we secured the Embassy, pulling many wounded and dead from the building."

During Morgan's six-month deployment his assignments included guarding President Ronald Reagan, President Jimmy Carter and ABC news correspondent Peter Jennings when they visited Beirut.

He recounted the time he met Jennings.

"A certain reporter walked up on the scene," Morgan said. "I was told to guard him and I responded,

'Who is that?' After all, 17 and 18 year olds don't watch a lot of news. I was told it was Peter Jennings, the Middle East news correspondent for ABC. I will never forget that."

His unit left Beirut three months before the attack on the Marine barracks on Oct. 23.

"After the Embassy bombing, we were relieved by BLT 1/8 in June of 1983," Morgan said. "On Oct. 23,1983, the building that I had been quartered in was bombed by a Hezbollah terrorist and 241 Marines were killed."

At 6:22 a.m., a suicide bomber drove a five-ton Mercedes truck across a parking lot, crashed through barbed wire fences and gates, avoided bullets from a sentry's rifle and ran straight into the building where some 300 Marines and corpsmen were sleeping.

A memorial to those who died that day was erected in Jacksonville, N.C., nestled in the curve at the entrance to Camp Johnson. It is the second most visited memorial in the United States, according to Morgan. "Only the Vietnam Memorial receives more visitors," he said.

General James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, told those present for the anniversary event, "The war on terror did not begin on Sept. 11, 2001. It began in Beirut in 1983."

General Conway was born in Walnut Ridge and is a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University. Among his personal decorations are the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with palm, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two Gold Stars, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Medal.

General Conway is a wonderful commandant, according to Morgan. "His men would follow him anywhere," he said. Conway is the nephew of the late Bobby Shrable, who lived in Walnut Ridge.

Morgan had an opportunity to speak briefly with Conway and have his photo taken with him. Morgan re-enlisted in the Marines in August of 2008 and is in the process of receiving his commission as a chaplain at the rank of captain. He was accompanied on the trip by his son, Adam Morgan, also of Walnut Ridge, who is a student at Black River Technical College.

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