On February 23, 2019, under a blue sky with palm fronds swaying in the breeze, a group of 250 people gathered at a community park in Port Charlotte, FL for a dedication ceremony. The 40 acre park on Charlotte Harbor was being officially dedicated for William R. Gaines Jr., also known as Bill, who died on Oct. 23, 1983 in the suicide attack on the Marine Corps battalion (BLT) headquarters building in Beirut, Lebanon. This attack destroyed the building and killed 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers.

The park was officially renamed by the county to honor one of their own as part of a larger story. As an official Purple Heart County, Charlotte County has a long history of paying tribute to those who serve our country. The development of the William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park represents an opportunity to share with those inside and outside the community a unique story that embodies the ideal of freedom by honoring those who serve and sacrifice for our protection.

Jeff Mosher who was a close friend of Bill’s delivered the keynote dedication speech. Jeff and Bill had joined the Marine Corps together in 1981 and served in the same platoon in Alpha Company 1/8 BLT before Bill transferred to S-2 (Intelligence) with Headquarters Company in late 1982.

The dedication connected the story of the Marines in Beirut and how their mission in 1982-1984 was closely tied to that of First Responders in our local communities. February 23rd also happened to be the same date the American flag was raised over Iwo Jima in 1945, a symbol that has come to epitomize the spirit of the Marine Corps.

As Jeff told the story of his and Bill’s time together leading up to the events on October 23, he spoke of how the Marines train for war. He eloquently bridged together how Marines and First Responders are trained to run to the fight wherever that may be. The symbolism behind the peacekeeping mission of the Multi-National force in Beirut comprised of French, Italian, British, and Americans parallels that of our community First Responders.

With many Beirut veterans and family members in attendance, Jeff shared that the highlight of this groundbreaking ceremony was announcing the future construction of the Beirut Peacekeepers Memorial Tower that will be central to the park. The tower will have two main elements tied together. "Spyglass" will be the stairs and elevator holding up "Habitat," the symbol of the BLT building that was destroyed. Rising out of the middle will be 241 staggered rods, one for each person killed on October 23, 1983. It will be a place to reflect on, learn about, and enjoy the freedom and sacrifice of others for generations to come.

The tower itself will visually tell a story. As visitors go up the tower, each level will have details about the history of Beirut and American involvement along with the names of all those who died there. It will stand in a community which honors all Veterans and First Responders to tell a story that must be told--the story of those willing to serve others and put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard the freedom we cherish.

This groundbreaking dedication was the first step in announcing the design and building of the Beirut Peacekeepers Memorial Tower. In the coming months there will be more details as the architectural and engineering plans are finalized.