In Portsmouth: Rhode Island Nine honored for ultimate sacrifice

35th anniversary of Beirut barracks bombings observed

By Jim McGaw
Posted 10/23/18

PORTSMOUTH — Summing up the courage and sacrifice displayed by the “Rhode Island Nine” and other soldiers early one Sunday morning 35 years ago, Lt. Col. Jonathan Kenney, USMC, …

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In Portsmouth: Rhode Island Nine honored for ultimate sacrifice

35th anniversary of Beirut barracks bombings observed

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Summing up the courage and sacrifice displayed by the “Rhode Island Nine” and other soldiers early one Sunday morning 35 years ago, Lt. Col. Jonathan Kenney, USMC, called the audience’s attention to the last lines of “Marines’ Hymn”:

If the Army and the Navy  

Ever look on heaven’s scenes;

They will find the streets are guarded by 

The United States Marines

“I would submit that while Marines are guarding the heavenly scenes, it’s the Rhode Island Nine that’s guarding those streets —looking out for us,” said Lt. Col. Kenney, the guest speaker at the 35th annual Beirut Memorial Service, held Tuesday morning at the Portsmouth Historical Society.

The service honored the nine Rhode Island Marines and 232 other U.S. service men and women who were killed during a terrorist bombing in 1983 while on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

At about 6:20 a.m. that Sunday morning 35 years ago, a yellow Mercedes stake-bed truck crashed into the lobby of the barracks for the 1st Battalion 8th Marines before the driver detonated a suicide bomb. FBI forensics experts later determined the bomb was the equivalent to about 12,000 pounds of T.N.T. and was the largest non-nuclear blast since World War II. Across town, a second suicide attack killed 56 French soldiers.

The nine Marines from Rhode Island who perished included two brothers-in-law: Cpl. Stephen E. Spencer, 23, of Portsmouth; and Lance Cpl. James F. Silvia, 20, of Middletown. Also killed were PFC Thomas Julian, 21, a 1979 graduate of Portsmouth High School; Cpl. Edward Soares Jr., 21, of Tiverton; and Sgt. Timothy Giblin of Providence, Cpl. David C. Massa of Warren, Cpl. Thomas A. Shipp of Woonsocket, Cpl. Rick R. Crudals of West Warwick and Cpl. Edward S. Iacovino Jr. of Warwick.

Lt. Col Kenney, a student at the Naval War College in Newport, returned from a deployment to the Middle East in April. He shares a connection with the Rhode Island Nine and the other fallen soldiers as he commanded their same unit — 1st Battalion, 8th Marines — from 2008 to 2009.

He shared a line from a poem by William Blake: “The most sublime act is to set another before you.” The poem was written more than 200 years ago but perfectly captures the mission by those Marines in Lebanon, he said.

“It talks about a sacrifice between unknowns, and that’s really powerful,” he said.

Lt. Col. Kenney then referenced a more modern phrase. “Many of you have heard the motto: ‘If not me, then who?’” 

It came from 1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC, who described the sense of duty felt by service members and their families. The motto also encapsulates, he said, how the Rhode Island Nine carried themselves.

“Duty called these Marines and they responded — and they gave their last full measure,” he said. “They are forever part of a brotherhood that doesn’t feel self-pity but is willing to serve as our nation’s guardians.”

After his speech, “Gold Star” family members of the deceased placed carnations that represented each Marine in a wreath that was later laid at a memorial outside the building, while “Taps” was played by a member of Navy Band Northeast.

Other guests

Also speaking Tuesday were U.S. Sen Jack Reed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline and Kasin Yarn, director of R.I. Office of Veterans Affairs, who read a proclamation from Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee told the Gold Star families and friends that the state plans to establish a formal memorial to the Rhode Island Nine within the next year.

“We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to place a monument in the State of Rhode Island,” he said.

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