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BEST FOOT FORWARD | The building blocks of the Beirut Memorial legacy

The lasting memory of Cpl. William R. Gaines, Jr. and the need to remember the sacrifice that Sunday morning in Beirut in 1983
Posted at 6:08 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 18:08:05-05

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — From a concept to seeing the first phase in Port Charlotte.

It's wonderful to see.

Eleven months ago, I had an early morning here at FOX 4. In a day that turned out to be an honor on my part to witness, for the groundbreaking for the Beirut Peacekeepers Memorial Tower at the William R. Gaines, Jr. Veterans Memorial Park.

Bill Gaines was a Marine from Port Charlotte. Only 21. Only married for a few weeks.

He was one of the 241 U.S. military members who died on what was the start of a calm Sunday morning in Beirut, Lebanon.

This was a time when calm was hard to find.

This week, FOX 4's Victoria Scott gave us an update on Wednesday on how the memorial tower is coming along, nearly a year since the shovels went into the dirt.

When it's all done, the tower will be a three-story educational experience. Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen Deutsch has been a driving force through this. When we talked a year ago about the groundbreaking, the excitement in his voice was apparent on the phone.

Because this is important.

For those of us of a certain age, we remember the Civil War in Lebanon. It lasted through the entirety of the 1980s.

Beirut was a beautiful, highly-cultured city before the war. In the 1980s, the phrase "it looks like Beirut" came from the images of the hollowed-out buildings, bombed out, hit with rockets throughout what had been a vibrant city.

Cpl. Bill Gaines was inside the Marine barracks. Nearly all of the Americans who died that day were fellow Marines. A suicide bomber backed a truck up. Two separate explosions killed 307 people. 241 Americans and also 58 military personnel from France.

America, eventually, left being a major presence in Lebanon but the following years were full of American hostages being held and hijackers holding commercial planes.

Of the 241 Americans who died, every single one of those men had a story.

For Bill Gaines, it was being a Southwest Florida kid.

Becoming a man, a husband.

Corporal Gaines was also an older brother to Michael Gaines, whom I had the honor of talking with last March at the groundbreaking.

There are other Beirut memorials throughout the nation, in Philadelphia, Arlington National Cemetery, in North Carolina with the words, "They Came in Peace".

I didn't have the true honor of knowing Cpl. Gaines but I flash back to all of the deployments and homecomings I covered from 2005 to about 2014 in the Midwest.

Too many funerals in small-town Iowa or Wisconsin high school gyms from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the tower is complete, I hope people in Charlotte County and all of Southwest Florida, will consider making a trip. The tower is going up to educate, to immerse yourself in the experience of what their mission was.

It's the very lease of what we can do.

Learn of the sacrifice and learn of these men.