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New Florida memorial to Marines killed in 1983 Beirut bombing selected

A living monument to those killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing will be getting a new home.

City officials selected a site for the creation of the Beirut Memorial Grove.

Bradford pear trees were planted to honor the troops killed in Beirut.

But some of the trees along N.C. 24 have been removed, damaged, or died.

Some were removed because of construction.

The city planted a grove of 273 autumn flowering cherry trees on 16 acres at the intersection of U.S. 17, N.C. 24 and Wilmington Highway across from Camp Geiger to symbolize the 273 lives lost during the blast or related incidents.

"As a bombing survivor, I am happy to see that continued commitment to honor our shared sacrifice," said Beirut Veterans of America Vice-President Danny Joy. "I'm sad to see the (original) trees go, but it's a good thing to see that there is a plan to never forget the Beirut bombing."

The bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, initially killed 241 Marines and sailors. The death toll increased to 273 after more service members succumbed to their injuries.

"The Beirut bombing brought the city and the military together," Joy said. "We had a less-than-ideal relationship prior to the bombing and it forged us into a community."

The Bradford pear trees along the Lejeune Boulevard median are a product of the City of Jacksonville's Memorial Tree Program and were one of the first honors given to those lost in the bombing -- the deadliest act of terror in Marine Corps history. The trees were successfully planted and dedicated by March 24, 1984.

"It's a very sensitive issue," Joy said. "Some parents have adopted the trees in remembrance of their son so I'm sure some will be truly heartbreaking for them to see them go."

Others, such as Mike Ellzey, a former public works director for the city of Jacksonville said the new grove is long overdue.

"We wanted to have trees to represent those killed over there and the first place we came up with was the median down Lejeune Boulevard," Ellzey said. "We recognized after we put them there it wasn't the best place for them."

Ellzey said the new site will better represent, not only the sacrifice, but the support of the military from the local community.

"The fact that the trees will now bloom during the fall is great," Ellzey said. "That's when the (Beirut) families come into town and for them to see that would be just great."

The memorial will be installed at no cost to Jacksonville, according to Deputy City Manager Ronald Massey.

"There are moneys set aside for area beautification by the state," Massey said. "It will come out of that pot of money that DOT has for enhancements."

The city recognizes the significance of the original trees, Massey said.

"What we would hope is that the creation of the grove will be a much more significant acknowledgment and recognition of the incident," Massey said. "We've coordinated with the survivors' group and they support what we're doing ... People may be sad but, hopefully, by us having a replacement will quell those emotions."

Base construction led to the removal of about 30 of the memorial trees. N.C. DOT determined the trees could not be replanted because they would stand too close to the highway.

"With some of the trees nearing the end of their lives, we recognized we couldn't just cut them down and not replace them," Massey said. "They all have significance and we want everyone to know we aren't just going to rip them all out immediately. It will certainly be on an as-needed basis."

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