Decades later, Warren soldier and eight others killed in Beirut honored

David C. Massa of Warren and eight other Rhode Islanders killed in Beirut, Lebanon bombing 37 years ago, honored in new state memorial in Providence

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/30/20

It has been nearly 40 years since her brother, Warren resident David C. Massa, died in the terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, but Anna Massa Beard still thinks about him every …

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Decades later, Warren soldier and eight others killed in Beirut honored

David C. Massa of Warren and eight other Rhode Islanders killed in Beirut, Lebanon bombing 37 years ago, honored in new state memorial in Providence

Posted

It has been nearly 40 years since her brother, Warren resident David C. Massa, died in the terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, but Anna Massa Beard still thinks about him every day.

On Sunday, she and dozens of other Gold Star Family members were able to properly memorialize him and the 240 others killed that day in 1983, as they gathered in Providence to dedicate a state memorial to the bombing on the Providence River.

In all, nine Rhode Islanders, known collectively as "The Rhode Island Nine," died in the bombing, as they worked as part of a peacekeeping mission in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

The bomber, who drove an explosives-laden truck into the embassy lobby on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, detonated a suicide bomb that FBI forensics experts later determined was the equivalent of about 12,000 pounds of TNT. It was the largest non-nuclear blast to date, and a second suicide attack killed 56 French soldiers.

Cpl. Massa, one of eight brothers and sisters born to Portuguese immigrants to Warren, always wanted to be a Marine, his sister said. His loss has profoundly affected her family and continues to do so:

"My brothers and I come from a very close knit family," she said. "We all loved each other and we miss David every single day. Even though it's been 37 years it still feels very fresh in our hearts."

Ms. Massa remembers her younger brother as a "kind young man who would do anything for anyone."

"When he told dad that he wanted to join the Marine Corps, my dad said no. but David was very insistent. He wanted to be a Marine so dad gave in."

When her brother died, "my dad blamed himself," she said. "He said, 'If I hadn't signed that paperwork, David would still be here. But David died doing what he loved. He loved being a Marine. So I just don't want people to forget that those 241 soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice. They should never be forgotten.

Finally

It took many years for that statewide remembrance. Though several towns hold yearly memorial services and Portsmouth has dedicated a small marker to the tragedy on the grounds of its Historical Society, a cohesive state memorial took longer to see through.

That changed about five years ago, when former Rep. Jan Malik, now Warren's DPW director, submitted legislation that eventually made it a reality. Rep. Malik was the head of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs at the time, and recalls writing the legislation after speaking to a clerk at the state house.

"He was in the barracks when it happened," he said. "He thought it was ironic" that the state lost nine Rhode Islanders but still didn't have a proper state memorial. The only other one in the state is a small plaque on the grounds of the Portsmouth Historical Society.

After submitting the legislation, the idea gained traction statewide and others, including members of the Rhode Island Nine Memorial Committee, picked up the baton and worked to see that the memorial came to pass. One of them was Charlie Masterson, a Marine Corps veteran who knew one of the victims as a young man.

He recalls a conversation many years ago with a Gold Star mother, who lamented that in time "nobody will remember Beirut or even care."

Mr. Masterson said his involvement with the committee over the years was a labor of love, a simple attempt to make sure the memory of the Rhode Island soldiers wouldn't fade. When Rep. Malik sponsored that legislation, he said, "it was a big step."
Over the past several years, the monument's design and location changed several times before planners chose a site on Dyer Street in Providence, overlooking the Providence River.
Like many others who helped make the monument happen, Mr. Malik attended Sunday's service. He said the memorial is beautiful and he was honored to help play a part in its development.

"It took a long time" to put up a state monument, he said. But those who planned and designed it "did a great job."

Mr. Masterson, Ms. Massa Beard, Mr. Malik and dozens of others celebrated the dedication of the memorial Sunday with a host of dignitaries, military officials and members of various local fire and police departments including Warren, which was represented by Fire Chief James Sousa, Engine II and several fire fighters.

For Ms. Massa Beard, the event was a milestone and a fitting tribute to her and the other peace keepers killed that day:

"I am so happy," she said. I want people to stop, I want people to read their stories, and I want people most of all to remember them as brave heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

The fallen

Apart from Cpl. Massa, 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. Thomas A. Shipp of Woonsocket, Cpl. Rick R. Crudals of West Warwick and Cpl. Edward S. Iacovino Jr. of Warwick.

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