Local event to spotlight traveling Beirut Memorial Wall project

On March 11, local Marine veteran Nick Mottola will host an opportunity to learn more about a project to build The Traveling Beirut Memorial Wall, which will be a replica of the stationary Beirut Memorial Wall, (pictured), located in Jacksonville, N.C. The event will be at his home at 159 Kings Cove Road in Franklin from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

In the early morning of Oct. 23, 1983, a truck packed with compressed, gas-enhanced explosives destroyed the First Battalion, 8th Marines Headquarters building in Beirut, Lebanon. The blast and the collapse of the building killed 241 Americans – Marines, sailors, and soldiers.

Marine Nick Mottola was there a few days after the attack, and for five years, the veteran has been planning The Traveling Beirut Memorial Wall – akin to The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. The stationary Beirut Memorial Wall is located outside the gate of Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, a satellite camp of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, N.C. However, Mottola, who lives in Franklin, desires to take a replica of the wall to the home towns and cities of all the fallen soldiers so that Gold Star families – who might not be able to travel to North Carolina – can pay their respect, honor lost loved ones, and understand details of the tragedy. (Gold Star refers to the immediate family member(s) of a fallen service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.)

On Saturday, March 11, from noon until 1:30, Mottola is opening up his home and property at 159 Kings Cove Road in Franklin to area veterans and the general public. Besides holding a Beirut memorial tree-planting ceremony on his property, he will share information about his traveling wall project, honor attending veterans, and then host a luncheon, with food and paper goods provided by local businesses. 

“This year is the 40th anniversary,” said Mottola, who suffered injuries during fighting that took place after the main attack. “The loss on Oct. 23, 1983, was the largest single loss of Marines since Iwo Jima in 1945. I personally lost [Marine Corp] brothers in combat. I wondered how many Gold Star families lost someone. I wanted to honor their sacrifice and never forget. [The traveling wall] will be a legacy left for their next generations.” 

The 1983 attack came during the summer of 1982, on the heels of the United States agreeing with the Lebanese government to establish a U.S. military presence in that country to serve as a peacekeeping force due to warring Muslim and Christian factions. As a result, the Muslim factions quickly perceived Marines as enemies which led to artillery, mortar, and small arms fires directed at the Marine Corps – culminating with the Oct. 23 event. Four months later on Feb. 26, 1984, the last U.S. Marines left Beirut. The memorial in Jacksonville was dedicated on Oct. 23, 1986, with approximately 2,000 in attendance. 

While The Beirut Traveling Memorial Wall is still in the planning stages with the exact scale yet to be determined, Mottola will have it fashioned as a replica of the permanent wall in Jacksonville. He is awaiting design approval from Jacksonville, and funds raised will purchase supplies to build the traveling wall. 

“One of the goals is to teach visitors about that event,” he said, “because many people do not know about the Beirut conflict.” 

The finished wall will be transported in a trailer that will also serve as a traveling museum, with exhibits about the historic event. 

“If it takes me until the day I die, I will make sure I go to the hometown of every name on the wall,” he added.

Mottola expects not only regional and local Beirut veterans and Gold Star families to attend the March 11 event, but also individuals with 828Vets, the organization in which he is involved. For more information, visit The Traveling Beirut Memorial on Facebook.