“I couldn’t believe my eyes. The barracks building was gone. The four-story building where hundreds of Marines with the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, lived was gone.
“No freakin’ way, I thought….there was nothing but a mushroom cloud where the barracks building was. It was at that moment I realized the cakewalk was over.”
— Tim McCluskey, Beirut bombing survivor, writing for the online Marines Blog
Amanda Winter Moore was just 3 1/2 on Oct. 23, 1983. All she remembers of her dad, U.S. Marine Capt. William E. Winter, was running to him for comfort one night as he came home from work after her mother had disciplined her.
Winter, of Athens, was one of 241 American servicemen who lost their lives in the suicide attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Another 128 Americans were wounded in the blast.
It was the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, the largest single-day death toll for the U.S. military since the first day of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.
The bombing was traced to Hezbollah, a militant and political group that originated in Lebanon in 1982. Iranian and Syrian involvement was also suspected.
But when you’re a little girl, hardly out of infancy, those figures and longstanding Middle East hostilities are meaningless.
“I remember sitting on the living room floor with my mother watching TV and all the names of the dead scrolling down,” said Moore. “I remember the funeral. I couldn’t understand if Daddy was in the box, why couldn’t he get out and play with me.”
On Oct. 23, 1983, Moore, her 6-year-old brother, Michael, and her mother, Melia, just 25, awaited the return of their father and husband, 32-year-old William “Bill” Winter, from Lebanon two weeks later to their home on Camp LeJeune at Parris Island, N.C.
Two days after the blast, then editor of The News Courier, Craig Beasley, interviewed the missing Marine’s father, Ellis Winter of Athens, who was still awaiting word on the fate of his only child. The elder Winter described his son, who had completed his paratrooper training while still at Auburn in the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps, as “kind of gung ho.”
Winter had been in Beirut since May 1983 as part of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force. At 6:22 a.m. that October day a 19-ton Mercedes-Benz truck driven by Iranian national Ismail Ascari passed between two sentry posts, passed through an open vehicle gate in the perimeter of chain-link fence, crashed through a guard shack in front of the building serving as the barracks and crashed into the building’s entry way.
Ascari detonated his explosives, which were later estimated to be equivalent to approximately 9,525 Kg (21,000 pounds) of TNT. The force of the explosion collapsed the four-story building on the site of the old Beirut International Airport.
Winter’s remains were “tentatively” identified on Nov. 4, 1983, almost two weeks after the bombing, Moore said.
“My understanding is that his remains were the second or third to be identified,” said Moore. “His room was right above where the truck detonated. They said, “we think” they are his remains.”
Winters parents asked their daughter-in-law, Melia, who remarried several years later and is now Melia Collier, to bring her children from North Carolina to Athens so they could help raise them.
“Some people have asked why he isn’t buried at Arlington, but my mother had him interred at Athens City Cemetery,” said Moore. “She said it was important for his family to be able to visit his gravesite whenever they wanted.”
Moore, now the single mother of four children, Cary William, 13; Madison, 9; Ainslee, 6, and Everley, 4, said she will take her children to her father’s grave today.
“We were going to go to Camp LeJeune because every year they have a big commemoration,” said Moore, who works three part-time jobs — paramedic for HEMSI Ambulance Service in Madison County, registered nurse at Limestone Correctional Facility and RN at Morgan County Jail.
“I wanted to take my four children there on the 30th anniversary, but we can’t make it,” she said.
Capt. William E. Winter was posthumously promoted to major. His dress uniform and clippings are on permanent exhibit at the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives on Pryor Street.
“What I would like to say is we must keep their memories alive — these men made a great sacrifice for peace,” Moore said. “But so did their families.”