PEACEKEEPERS AT WAR: Beirut 1983—The Marine Commander Tells His Story
To understand “Peacekeepers at War,” one must understand the author.
Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty is a quiet-spoken, easy-going man with a twinkle in his blue Irish eyes. He has seen much, but is used to keeping secrets. It’s not just his personality, but his calling as a professional warrior entrusted to execute sensitive missions both for the Marine Corps and the CIA, in and out of uniform.
“We selected Col. Tim Geraghty to command the 24th MAU [Marine amphibious unit] because of his demonstrated leadership and performance for a long period in very demanding assignments,” writes General Al Gray, the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, in the book’s foreword.
“Peacekeepers at War” unfolds slowly and methodically as Geraghty sets the stage historically, geographically and strategically. He details how the Muslim sects’ majority claim on the Government of Lebanon evolved into one of the primary causes of civil war during 1975 to 1976. Then he defines the complexity of the Government of Lebanon dealing with three armies, 22 militias and 40 political parties—most defined by ethnical and religious loyalties.
Geraghty transitions to 24 MAU’s predeployment workup, the unit’s Atlantic crossing and its setup at the Beirut International Airport. Geraghty’s writing shifts gears as his unit experiences a new tone and tenor in their operations area … and then find themselves enmeshed in the hostilities surrounding them after the Israelis withdraw from the Shouf Mountains, moving south to the Awali River. The unit takes casualties early in September and, despite the best of intentions, ultimately is drawn into the conflict.
For more than 25 years, I pressed Col Geraghty to tell me about the events preceding the naval bombardment on the Syrian-supported Druze PSP, radical Palestinians and assorted Muslim militias driving hard against the Lebanese Armed Forces defending the Lebanese mountain resort town of Suq el Gharb on Sept. 19, 1983—a pivotal event in the legacy of those of us who served in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. He would just smile, set his jaw and remain silent.
Now Geraghty details the chronology of that difficult and dangerous episode between pages 70 through 74 that resulted in his ordering the ships to fire, an order that he said at the time, “My gut instinct tells me the Corps is going to pay in blood for this decision.”
Unfortunately, that prophetic statement foretold a disaster of enormity that no one before or since could envision. One month later—almost to the day—two Iranian zealots sacrificed their lives to kill 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French paratroopers in separate truck bombings. Geraghty details and comments on the Long Commission findings, then cites a number of lessons learned. Based on its findings, the Long Commission recommended letters of censure for Geraghty and the battalion landing team commander, Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach, who was severely wounded in the Beirut bomb blast.
True to his nature, Geraghty stoically accepted responsibility for the disaster as the commander of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, but he left the judgment of history to the families of the men who died and the men with whom he served. Twenty-six years later his faith in them has not wavered—nor has their belief and trust in him faltered.
“Peacekeepers at War” provides intimate insight into the dynamics involved as 24th MAU was probed and tested by Islamist extremists bent upon an ideological war in which we still are engaged, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but here at home as well.
Although Geraghty paints several dramatic events and circumstances—this is not a drama, but a meticulously detailed report from the on-scene commander. It is a military tome that I’m sure scholars will mine for years to come, and a historical tale of challenge, courage and determination in the face of horrific adversity that needed to be told.
Editor’s note: Currently an instructor at the Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Md., and a former Leatherneck associate editor, Bob Jordan is a frequent reviewer for Leatherneck and the Marine Corps Gazette. Bob also co-authored, with Don Philpott, the book “Terror—Is America Safe?” in 2006.