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Minnesota Marines Remembered 30 Years After Beirut Barracks Bombing

Updated: 10/24/2013 1:18 PM
Created: 10/23/2013 10:01 PM KSTP.com
By: Naomi Pescovitz

Thirty years ago, Beirut, Lebanon was the site of the deadliest terror attack on Americans before 9-11.

A total of 241 Americans were killed on Oct. 23, 1983 when a truck carrying thousands of pounds of explosives drove into the Marine compound at the airport in Beirut.

Four of those killed were Minnesota Marines. Two of those marines, John Tishmack and Thomas Lamb, are buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. John Olson is buried in Sabin, Minnesota. Kevin Custard is buried in Virginia. Another Minnesota Marine, John Downing, took his own life days after the attack. He is also buried at Fort Snelling.

On a cold Wednesday evening at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, friends, family and service members huddled together to remember those killed 30 years ago.

"It's devastating. It's devastating and it's more so devastating that it's just not recognized like it should be. Today is a wonderful day that this is even taking place," said John Olson's sister, Mary Baumgartner.

John Olson was only 21 years old.

"We thought that it must have been pretty dangerous based on letters from John," Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner cannot forget the day of the blast, but has better memories of the brother who made her proud.

"A true Minnesotan. He loved the Vikings, fishing, hunting, anything to do outdoors, snowmobiling, just a lot of fun," Baumgartner said.

John Downing's family is left with a different kind of grief.

"Suicide is a hard thing," said John Downing's brother, Mark Downing.

John Downing was a tank commander and took his own life less than a week after some of the Marines he had trained died under the rubble in Beirut.

"He was too young and had a lot to live for. We just feel like 26, we didn't really get a chance to know him," said John Downing's sister, Mary Caruso.

Fifty-eight French troops were killed on the same day in 1983, also at the hands of a suicide bomber.

KSTP Archives: Jason Davis reported in Beirut for a week after the bombing. Watch an extended interview with Jason and one of his original reports here.


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