October 23, 1983, was a typical
Lebanese morning, hot and humid, the air laying heavy on
Beirut, when a huge blast cut through the Marine barracks.
Many Marines were sleeping peacefully when a suicide bomber
leveled the four-story brick building. The car bomb was the
largest non-nuclear blast ever detonated. Witnesses said that
the driver was smiling as he drove towards his death. The
result: 241 American servicemen killed and 80 seriously
wounded. Among the dead was Judith Young's son, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey Dennis Young served with 2nd Marine Division 2nd
Recon. He was 22. "There was never any doubt that Jeff wanted
to be a soldier, ever since he was a little boy playing with
his GI Joes,'' said his mother. "When your children go into
the service, there is always a danger that something bad will
happen. We just didn't expect anything of this magnitude.''
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the
Marine barracks in Beirut. Ask any mother who has lived
through the terrible moment when she answers the knock at the
door, only to see a casualty officer. Without fail, she
describes every moment. The memory burns. For Judith Young,
those memories are as clear and concise as though the events
of 20 years ago happened yesterday. "I measure time by October
23, 1983,'' she said. She describes waking up before dawn the
morning of the bombing, feeling as though there was a dark
cloud looming over her.
"Something happened to me that morning that I still can't
explain. It was as though I could feel death in my home.'' She
went immediately to check on her mother who was staying with
the Youngs while undergoing cancer treatment. Her mother was
safe, but Judith was unable to fall back to sleep. Sunday
morning, Judith's brother-in-law called to say that he had
been watching the news, and reports were coming in from Beirut
that the Marine barracks had been bombed.
She attended church services, but returned to a house filled
with worried family and friends. "We spent the entire day
watching TV,'' said Judith. "A phone number was given to call
for information on family members serving with the USMC in
Beirut, but we could never get through,'' she said.
A family member claimed he had seen Jeff among the survivors.
Anchorman Stone Phillips brought over Beirut tapes that had
not been broadcast. The Youngs gathered around the television,
straining for a glimpse of Jeff. Eventually they saw a young
man that they were sure was their son, but Jeff's brother John
wasn't convinced. The Youngs appeared on Nightline,
relieved at the evidence that their son was safe. They were
confident that he would be contacting them at any moment.
Judith wrote to Jeff, apologizing for what would certainly
appear to him to be a media circus.
Less than a week later, two USMC officers gently explained
that Jeffrey Young had been killed during the explosion.
The Youngs insisted that it could not be their son because
they had seen him during a news broadcast. The confused
officer made a series of phone calls trying to locate Jeffrey
Young. Once again, the Young home was full with family and
friends when the news came that the body of Jeffrey Dennis
Young had been found and identified.
Both their community and the Marine Corps rallied around the
Young family. The local park that Jeff, his brother, and his
father had played in was renamed the Jeff Young Memorial Park.
Three Beirut survivors attended the ceremony and Gen. Al Gray
was guest speaker.
In the aftermath of the October 23, 1983, tragedy, Judith
Young began a support group with Joan Muffler, who had also
lost a son in the Beirut bombing. The Beirut Connection began
locating and uniting those who lost sons, fathers, and
brothers to the bombing. Eventually it merged with the Beirut
Veterans Association. It is during this period that an idea
began to take shape in Judith's mind.
"I knew for quite some time that I wanted to go [to Beirut],''
Judith Young said. She decided to act on her dream of seeing
the country her son died for. "I grabbed my sneakers, got on
the train to D.C., and began making the rounds, beginning with
the State Department. For the longest time after that day, I
thought they [the State Department] had forgotten about me,
until one day the phone rang. A woman who worked for the State
Department was calling to inform me that Secretary of State
Madeline Albright had lifted the travel ban to Lebanon and
that I could begin making plans for my trip.''
Judith and Jack received no help from any travel companies or
the U.S. or Lebanese State Departments. The flight into
Lebanon was long and arduous. "On the last leg, into Beirut,
Jack and I were the only people on the plane who spoke
English,'' Judith Young said.
Judith Young came to Beirut with two goals in mind. The first
was to see the area where the barracks had stood in 1983. The
second was to come home with a piece of that building. To her
intense disappointment, her first assignment was met with
frustration. "The year before we received permission to travel
to Beirut, the remains of the barracks were torn down and
paved over,'' she said. The site of the U.S. Marine Corp
Peacekeping Force was a blacktopped parking lot. "We were met
at the airport by a dozen individuals holding a sign with our
names and beautiful bouquets of flowers,'' she said. She has
no idea how the group found out about their arrival, but soon
realized that these people were on a mission, and that mission
was the care and well being of Jack and Judith Young. After
the disappointment at the barracks, their newfound friends
took the Youngs to their hotel.
The next morning they were taken to a Catholic church where
the priest read a poem about "Judith's Bouquet,'' a story
about a bouquet made up of red, white, and blue silk roses,
each with the name of a Marine who had been killed in the 1983
attack. Judith had sent the bouquet with a journalist. After
listening to the priest's moving tribute to a mother's love
for her son, the Youngs and their hosts boarded a van and
drove to a park that serves as a memorial to those who
sacrificed their lives during the country's civil war, which
began in 1979. This park was filled with trees, each with a
number and marker, to commemorate the men who lost their lives
on October 23, 1983. A large stone was inscribed with Jeffrey
Dennis Young's name and birth date,
and the day of his parents' visit.
"I don't know what they would have done if we hadn't been able
to make it that day,'' Judith said. "It was obvious they had
done this to honor us and to commemorate the journey we were
making in Jeff's memory.'' Several children gathered around
the Youngs and, along with their parents, began singing. "It
was something I'll never forget,'' she said. Judith Young's
only disappointment during the trip was not obtaining a piece
of the building her son had called home. The remains of the
barracks had been dumped into the Mediterranean Sea after it
But she later found a piece of building in the most unlikely
of places, at Camp LeJeune, N.C. It was given to her during
the Beirut Veterans Reunion at the 15th anniversary of the
When asked what she came away with from her trip, Judith Young
replied with a most unlikely answer: "Friendship'' "It was not
what we expected to find, but it found us, nonetheless.'' The
Youngs have kept their Beirut friendships alive four years
after their trip. One Lebanese friend visited this country and
made a special point of seeing the Youngs. The Youngs still
stay in close touch with the friends they made during their
journey. Jack Young hopes to go back again soon. "Jeff's
brother John feels very strongly about going as well,'' said
Judith. Many Beirut families also have expressed an interest
Judith Young is currently serving as Second Vice President of
the Gold Star Mothers, a job she feels has channeled much of
her energy into a positive direction and something she
desperately needed after Jeff's death. "My energy has been
focused for nearly two decades on the Beirut veterans and
their families,''she said. "I feel very protective of these
people. The names of their sons, fathers, brothers and
husbands are ingrained in my memory forever.''