Hundreds honor those who died in '83 attack
By CAROL COMEGNO
A portrait that once hung in a place of honor on the USS New Jersey came back home Sunday amid tearful memories of the most serious terrorist attack against Americans before 9/11.
The widow of battleship sailor Michael Gorchinski donated the painting of her husband to the ship during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist truck bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.
Gorchinski, 35, and eight other New Jersey residents were among the 241 Marines, Navy and Army personnel who died there while taking part in an international peace-keeping mission. Nearly 100 others were injured.
"This was Mike's ship and I needed to be here," said Judy Gorchinski, 51, of Sacramento, Calif. "It's an emotional healing."
Michael Gorchinski, an electronics technician chief who spent childhood summers with his father in Pleasantville and later lived in San Diego, had gone ashore voluntarily to help Marines repair their radar. He was staying overnight in the barracks when it was attacked on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983.
Gorchinski's widow - along with his best friend and fellow battleship crewman, retired Master Chief John Giles of Shrewsbury, Mass. - unveiled the portrait as they stood on the deck of the retired ship, now a museum on the city waterfront.
"This is where his portrait belongs, and I am so impressed at the magnificent job the volunteers have done with the ship," Judy Gorchinski said.
Giles' wife, Dr. Marianne Felice, counseled Gorchinski's daughter Christina, then 6, after he died.
Felice told a moving account of how the youngster came to understand what happened and came to grips with it.
"There was a man who didn't like Americans. . . . I don't know why," Christina told her. "He got a lot of dynamite and put it in a truck . . . and he killed my daddy and all the other daddies."
The New Jersey, stationed off Lebanon in the Mediterranean Sea in 1983-84, later fired into Lebanon at Syrian and rebel forces with its main battery of nine 16-inch guns. The ship was awarded a combat campaign star for its role in the Beirut Crisis.
Several hundred people gathered for Sunday's ceremony, sponsored by the Department of New Jersey Marine Corps League and the ship museum.
Many embraced and quietly shed tears. Rain threatened, but a glimmer of sunshine broke through before two trumpets played Echo Taps and those gathered sang "God Bless America."
Gorchinski's father Ben, 82, welled with emotion when Felice spoke of his son and granddaughter. He called the ceremony "touching."
Jeffrey Young, a 22-year-old Marine from Moorestown, also died in the bombing.
His mother, Judy, co-founded a family support group for Beirut veterans and also is a trustee of the 850-member Beirut Veterans of America.
In thanking the Marine Corps League, she noted Sunday was the first time the "boys from Beirut" were recognized in New Jersey with a special ceremony.
She likened the period from 1983 until 9/11 to a baseball game. She said the politicians should have taken more notice but did not have the courage to "step up to the plate."
"The game was in the seventh inning stretch for 18 years until home plate was attacked and thousands lost their lives," said Young, 63, who also attended a Marine Corps observance Thursday in North Carolina. "Now we have to play catch up. . . . This is the World Series and we have to win."
The other seven New Jersey servicemen killed were George Dramis of Cape May Court House, Manuel Cox of Toms River, James Langon IV of Lakehurst, Paul Innocenzi III of Trenton, William Burley of Linden, Sean Estler of Kendall Park and Thomas Stowe of Somerville.
Richard Watson, 41, of Berlin Township was serving with the Marines in Beirut at the time of the attack. He was at another barracks inside a university building about a mile away from the bombing.
Watson had just gotten off guard duty and was lying in bed when he heard an explosion that blew out the windows in his building.
"We ran up to the roof and saw the smoke cloud," he recalled. "We couldn't leave our posts, but we then heard a radio transmission, and I'll never forget how shocking it was when the voice said `an estimated 200 casualties.' "
Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or email@example.com