By Tom Bartlett - Originally Published January 1984
President Ronald Reagan said that the Marine landing at Grenada was "no invasion; it was a rescue mission." Battalion Landing Team 2/8 was the first to go ashore.
On Grenada, our military forces moved quickly and professionally to protect American lives....
"....this was no invasion; it was a rescue mission."
So said President Ronald Reagan, speaking to Marines, their families and friends at the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. The President and Mrs. Reagan had flown to Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point "to pay homage to the heroes of Lebanon and Grenada."
American forces at Grenada were responding to an urgent request from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the President explained. "Only days before our actions, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had been brutally murdered along with several members of his cabinet and unarmed civilians.
"With 1,000 Americans, including 800 students on that island, we weren't about to wait for the Iran crisis to repeat itself, only this time in our own neighborhood-the Caribbean," President Reagan said.
Grenada was the largest American combat action since Vietnam. The mission began on October 25, 1983. The four-man Navy SEAL team which parachuted offshore, drowned in heavy seas. They were to provide battle commanders with intelligence concerning the 10,000-foot runway at Point Salines.
At 0500, Battalion Landing Team 2/8 (of the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit) went ashore from the USS Guam. Because of heavy seas, they were ferried to beaches by helicopters, with "E" Company in the lead, followed closely by "F" and "G".
The Marines assaulted Pearls Airport in the northeast. Their initial mission was to secure the northern half of the island. They met "no resistance of substance," according to Maj Pat Coulter, a Public Affairs Officer. The airfield and adjacent area were declared "secured" at 0725.
The heavy surfs had subsided somewhat. The Army Rangers parachuted (from 500 feet) on the southern portion of the island and ran into "stiff resistance." Two Marines companies ("F" and "G") were backloaded into 13 amphibious assault vehicles along with five tanks. They landed at Grand Mal, finding no resistance.
"There had been fighting, primarily small arms," Coulter said, "but apparently, when the Marines landed with a heavy presence, the resistance faded."
The two Marine companies moved through the night, with "F" taking defensive positions north of Grenada's capital, St. George's. Company "G" took the governor's residence, rescuing a number of civilians.
The following day, a combined Marine and Army Ranger helicopter assault secured the Grand Anse area, with six helicopters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 using their "Sea Knights" to evacuate students.
Meanwhile, "G" Company advanced on Fort Frederick, the command center for the Grenadian People's Revolutionary Army. Organized resistance "became disorganized after that," Coulter said.
It was "Fox" Company that secured Fort Rupert, finding the initial weapons cache. Marine photojournalist SSgt R.C. Bernal recalled that Grenadian civilians often helped Marines as they swept the island "and there were many reports of natives pointing out the hiding places of the 'bad' guys," he said.
After Army troops and Marines lined up at Pearls, the 22nd MAU began backloading to the ships. The following morning at 0430, a combined helicopter/amtrac assault took place at Carriacou Island, 20 miles north of Grenada. There had been reports of a combined Grenadian/Cuban force of 100 or more on the island, but none was found.
On November 1st, Marines of the 22nd MAU were underway to relieve the Beirut veterans of the 24th MAU.
The landing at Grenada was short, but costly.
Capt Timothy B. Howard was flying a "Cobra" gunship for Marine Helicopter Squadron 261, escorting troop helicopters when Marines landed at Pearls. Howard and his co-pilot, Capt Jeb F. Seagle, were offered targets, "one of them a fort from which we received small arms fire," Howard said.
"Suddenly there were two loud bangs in the cockpit and the engine began to wind down rapidly," he recalled. "I looked down and saw my right hand and the upper part of my arm, but everything in between was a bloodied mess."
The femur bone in his right leg was broken. Lead and steel shrapnel wedged in his neck. His radio was gone. His copilot was limp "as though unconscious."
Howard used his left arm and leg to nurse the crippled Cobra down. "The plane landed real hard, but level. It didn't roll over, and that saved us." But it caught fire, and ammo began cooking off. Seagle regained consciousness and pulled himself from the chopper, then ran to help Howard.
"I unstrapped and fell out. He grabbed my by the collar. He pulled and I pushed, and we got away from that bird. I would have died without Jeb," Howard maintained.
Enemy troops spotted them and opened fire. Seagle's body was riddled. "I saw rounds kicking up all around me," Howard recalled. Unarmed and unable to crawl because of his wounds, Howard gave the universal sign of contempt, using his left arm and hand.
It was then he heard another helicopter and he recognized his wingman, Capt John P. (Pat) Giguere, blasting the enemy.
"After Pat left, it got quiet again and I remember staring at the blue sky and green trees, and hearing the sound of the ocean. I got to thinking, 'If I have to go, this is a nice setting.'"
Then he heard another helicopter, a Sea Knight. The crew chief leaped out and dragged Howard into the aircraft. He was flown to the assault ship, Guam.
Later that same day, Giguere and his co-pilot, 1stLt J.R. Sharver, were killed when their Cobra was shot down.
Various caches found by soldiers and Marines on Grenada included documents and military assistance treaties.
Nearly 1,000 Americans were flown out of Grenada in Air Force C-141 transports.
"I invite some of those so quick to criticize our operation in Grenada to read the letters I've received from those students and their families," President Reagan told the Marines and families gathered at Cherry Point. "The students know this was no invasion; it was a rescue mission. Marines have a saying. 'We take care of our own.' America, with the help of the Marines, will take care of her own.
"America seeks no new territory, nor do we wish to dominate others. Yet we commit our resources and risk the lives of those in our armed forces to rescue others from bloodshed and turmoil, and to prevent humankind from drowning in a sea of tyranny.
"Today, the world looks to America for leadership. And America looks to its Corps of Marines...."
Air Force One landed at Cherry Point on Friday, November 4, 1983. The President and Mrs. Reagan were greeted by Major General Richard Kuci, Commanding General of the Marine Corps Air Station, and Brigadier General George Leach, Assistant Wing Commander of the Second Marine Aircraft Wing. Both generals were accompanied by their wives.
The group flew to Camp Lejeune for a memorial service for Marine and Navy casualties of Beirut.
Returning to Cherry Point, the president spoke to hundreds gathered in the rain.
"I have just met with the families of many of those who were killed," the president said. "I think all Americans would cradle them in our arms if we could. We share their sorrow. I want all of you who lost loved ones and friends to know that the thoughts and prayers of this nation are with you.
"I came here today to honor so many who did their duty and gave the last full measure of their devotion. They kept faith with us and with our way of life. We would not be free long, but for the dedication of such individuals. They were heroes. We are grateful to have had them with us.
"The motto of the United States Marine Corps is: 'Semper Fidelis,' Always Faithful. We, too, must remain always faithful; faithful to those ideals which so many have given their lives to protect. Our heritage of liberty must be preserved and passed on. This sacred responsibility is not easy and is not without cost, but let no terrorist question our will...no tyrant doubt our resolve. Americans have courage and determination, and we must not and will not be intimidated, by anyone, anywhere.
"Since 1775, Marines, just like many of you, have shaped the strength and resolve of the United States. Your role is as important today as at any time in our history.
"Our hearts go out to the families of brave men we honor today. Let us close ranks with them in tribute to our fallen heroes, their loved ones, who gave more than can ever be repaid. They now are part of the soul of this great country and will live as long as our liberty shines as a beacon of hope to all those who long for freedom and a better world."
While attending the memorial service at Camp Lejeune, the president spoke to the families of the victims of Lebanon and Grenada. Excerpts are as follows:
"No words can make things easier.
"All those we honor today....they chose to wear the uniform of their country.
"They believe in defending freedom; defending what this country stands for.
"They were willing to die for freedom for their country.
"Where do we find men like this? We all know the answer. They come from families like yours; from farms and villages, towns and cities across the nation.
"What they did for us, and for our country, is what America is all about."