In 1983, I was a senior in college at Eastern Illinois University, studying Political Science. My younger brother Dean had taken another path. He'd enlisted in the Marines the same year I'd transferred to Eastern, 1981.
In the spring of 1983, he was sent as part of a peace-keeping force to Beirut, Lebanon. It was nerve-wracking for my family. A number of U.S. soldiers were killed by snipers or when errant mortar rounds that the various factions that they were there to separate fired at one another missed and hit their camp.
On October 23, 1983, a truck filled with six tons of explosives crashed into the lobby of the barracks many of the Marines were living in and exploded. The concrete barracks was lifted up in the air and came crashing down on the sleeping Marines, soldiers and sailors.
What followed was the four longest days of my life. Finally, I got a call from my parents-- his girlfriend had called them-- he'd managed to get off a phone call to her to let her know that he was all right. He'd been sleeping in a tent about a mile from the barracks. He was one of the first people to get there and begin digging guys out of the rubble.
In the box I keep old pictures and memories, I have a letter he sent me nearly a year later. I was to discover that I was the only one in the family he talked to or wrote to about his experience. He was, to say the least, shaken by it. He'd had to put guys he'd known into body bags. He'd had to hold guys who were clearly dying and tell them that they were going to be okay in order to comfort them in their last moments.
In the end, there were 241 U.S. soldiers killed that day. Another suicide bomber hit the French barracks at nearly the same time, killing a number of French soldiers.
The guy who went off to Beirut never came back. After serving over ten more years, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mostly relating to that week in Beirut (his service in the first Iraq war, Somalia and peace-keeping in Haiti probably didn't help). The military deemed him 100% disabled. He has struggled in his personal and professional life since then, despite the counseling and college provided by the military. It has adversely affected his relationship with me and every other member of his family, including his own children.
On this holiday, spend some time with your family and friends. Be thankful that they are well. Please, though, take just a moment out of your day to remember those who have paid the price for us to enjoy that.