One of the many things that differentiates Marines from other service members is their overwhelming sense of heritage. History is important to the Corps, evidence of which is at every turn. The Marines' Hymn begins with the lyrics, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” These reference battles in far-flung locations in times past. The most iconic imagery of the Marine Corps is the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima. These memorable reflection points remind Marines they are carrying the traditions of a proud people, of warriors who sewed stories with their own blood. Marines remember.
In Jacksonville, North Carolina, Marine veteran Paul “Doc” Doolittle is walking 273 miles to remember the Marines lost during the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the terrorist attack, which took 241 lives (220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers). Many Americans view the 2001 terrorist attacks on 9/11 as an event that initiated the Global War on Terrorism, but for veterans such as Doolittle who served in the 80s, the war began long before.
It's worth noting that war is primarily fought by young men. Those who survive and come home become old before their time. As the years pass, the conflict of their youth tremendously impacts who they are and who they become. As such, many of them feel a sense of duty to carry the memory of those lost to the following generations. Doc Doolittle is one of those men, ensuring the brothers are not forgotten.
Doolittle grew up in a military family. Both his father and mother served in the Navy. His father was a SeaBee who served in Vietnam and in various exotic locations during the Cold War. Doolittle didn’t plan on joining the military but as he came of age and saw conflict increasing across the globe, a sense of duty compelled him to be a part of it. He intended to enlist as a Crash, Fire and Rescue guy, but like scores of other veterans, the Corps had other ideas.
Doolittle was a 22-year-old Corporal serving as an Air Defense Controller aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, when the Beirut bombing occurred. He and every other Marine serving in 1983 wanted to take the fight to the enemy. The terrorist action did not result in an offensive response from the U.S. military, but the desire to make an active contribution never left Doolittle. In 1985, he volunteered to serve as a Marine Security Guard on Embassy Duty, initially in China. When the opportunity came for transfer, he requested Beirut.
By this point, Doolittle was a Sergeant, a rank that carries a lot of responsibility in the Marine Corps and held by those still doing the dirty work in the ranks. His reason for choosing Beirut for his next post was the same reason he chose the Marine Corps as his preferred branch of service. Doolittle said, “If I am going to do something, I am going all the way.” Though he had been a Marine for many years before MSG Duty, his service as an Embassy Guard matured him personally and professionally like no other. He reported to Beirut a month after terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847. He and his fellow Marines were sturdy professionals conducting serious business at a time when there were still American hostages in Lebanon. This experience would remain with him long after taking off the uniform.
In 2008, the 25th anniversary of the attack, Doc Doolittle was inspired to conduct the first Walk to Remember and committed himself to do so every five years. He walked again in 2013 and 2018. On October 1, 2023, he stepped off for his fourth walk. Though Doolittle lives in Colorado, he chose Jacksonville, North Carolina, as the location for this event. Jacksonville is home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and the Beirut Memorial. Most of the lives lost during the bombing were members of 1st Battalion 8th Marines, an infantry unit garrisoned aboard Camp Lejeune.
When asked why he is doing this, Doolittle simply responded, “My only mission is to make sure more people know about this, that they aren’t forgotten.” He also stated, “Our memories are erased or overwritten by other things, and this one just doesn’t deserve to be overwritten.” Significant events can be eclipsed by recent events, but that is no excuse for forgetting. He added “I think about this every day, and I do this dance every five years.”
Since stepping off, Doc has walked every day, rain or shine. Slogging through the long miles, alone, day after day, takes a toll. He does not allow himself the distraction of headphones, so when the mental and emotional drive wanes, he simply keeps putting one foot in front of the other. He remembers specific names of fallen Marines and Sailors. He speaks their names, wears a bracelet for one, and is compelled to make them known to others through action. He keeps walking. He remembers. He reminds us to remember.
Doolittle’s hike will culminate with the final two miles on October 23. It coincides with the annual Beirut Memorial Observance, scheduled for 10:30 AM on Monday, October 23, 2023, at Lejeune Memorial Gardens, 100 Montford Landing Road, Jacksonville, NC. This event is organized by the Beirut Memorial Advisory Board and the City of Jacksonville in cooperation with MCB Camp Lejeune and is open to the Public.
Doc Doolittle welcomes any who wants to walk the last two miles with him the morning of October 23. He will step off at approximately 0715 from the Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery directly across the road from Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
Anyone who would like to support Doc Doolittle in his Walk to Remember or would like to request a coin can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.