Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

50 Years Later, U.S. Marines Remember the 1958 U.S. "Intervention" in Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

50 Years Later, U.S. Marines Remember the 1958 U.S. "Intervention" in Lebanon

Article excerpt

IT WAS JULY 15, 1958, and Second Lieutenant Simon L. Leis Jr. was nervous. As he waited for orders aboard the USS Taconic, he peered across the rough waters of the Mediterranean toward the yellow sands of Khalde beach, just five miles south of Beirut. Like the other members of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) that day, Leis was preparing for battle. Briefed to expect the possibility of a hostile reception, the young leatherneck from Cincinnati, Ohio knew little of the complexities surrounding Lebanon's predicament. But when the call to arms finally came he was ready. As whoops of anticipation and nervous tension rang out across the ship's sun-scorched deck, Leis, together with his comrades from the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment, clambered into a waiting landing craft below, and immediately set off for an amphibious assault on "Red Beach" at Khalde, some 500 yards from their position.

"We left for the beach at 3 o'clock in the afternoon," recalls Leis. "And that was the first time in the history of the Marine Corps that a landing was started in the middle of the afternoon. Landings like this were always done first thing in the morning, which gave us all day to unload the ships. Nevertheless, we were told that we were going into combat, and so that's what we expected."

Leis, who, at 23 years old, was one of the oldest members of the landing force, didn't have long to reflect, yet what little time he did have was spent thinking about home.

"I was a married man for only about two months before being shipped out," he recalls. "And I thought, 'Hell, I'm too young to die!' I mean, I didn't know what married life was all about."

Within minutes, the steel ramp of the landing crafts hit the deck, and Leis and his 2000-strong battalion stormed the beach-an angst-ridden moment somewhat tempered for the landing party by swimmers and scantily-clad sunbathers. Carrying some 90 pounds of battle gear, and surrounded by the roar of amphibious tractors, and the thunder of naval planes overhead, the men-all sweltering in the 90-degree heat-scrambled up the glistening shore, heading for their target: Beirut International Airport. As some observers waved and cheered, the surreal nature of the landing was compounded further as a number of local boys made for the water's edge in an attempt to help the Marines drag their heavier equipment through the surf.

As Leis and his company moved swiftly toward the capital's airport, PFC John E. Dreisbach, a Morse Code operator and member of the Naval Gunfire Team, moved inland to set up a command-post.

"When we landed, what hit me immediately was the heat," recalls Dreisbach, then only 19 years old. "While the line companies went to secure the airport, we dug in, and although that night was pretty quiet, it was still so very hot and large mosquitoes buzzed all around us."

The following day, as the initial deployment was reinforced by further Marine landings-others from the Airborne Division would arrive within days-the Pennsylvania-born Dreisbach joined the long military push into Beirut itself.

"On the long column-containing tanks, amtracks, trucks and jeeps-that entered Beirut, I was sitting on a jeep fender," remembers Dreisbach. "There were thousands of people lining the streets, half of whom seemed to welcome us. The looks of the others made me get off the fender and jump into a truck, as they didn't look that friendly. I was also uneasy about the buildings, which seemed to be damaged by explosives. …

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