Beirut Barracks Bombing


Rabbi Resnicoff was present in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983, at the time of the suicide truck bomb attack.

Then serving as one of the Sixth Fleet Chaplains, attached to the staff of Commander Sixth Fleet, onboard the flagship USS Puget Sound, in Gaeta, Italy, Rabbi Resnicoff was a frequent visitor to the Marines in Beirut.  He flew to the Marine compound on Friday, October 21, 1983, to lead a memorial service for Allen Soifert, a young Marine from New Hampshire killed by sniper fire.

Chaplain Resnicoff leading the memorial service for Allen Soifert in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 21, 1983. Here he is joined by Chaplains Pucciarelli and Wheeler so that they could recite the 23rd psalm together.

When the Marines offered to fly him back to Italy on Saturday, he explained that — unless life was in danger — he did not travel on the Jewish Sabbath (sunset Friday through sunset Saturday), and would therefore wait until Sunday.  At 6:20 A.M. that Sunday, Oct 23, 1983, the suicide truck bomb attack occurred, ultimately taking the lives of 241 American military personnel.

Resnicoff filling in the Jewish chaplain symbol with Hebrew letters on the sign for the Peacekeeping Chapel in Beirut
Portion of the sign that survived the attack, and is now part of the historical collection at the U.S. Naval Chaplaincy School and Center

Four days following the attack, then-Vice President George Bush led the White House team that visited the site. The Vice President requested that Rabbi Resnicoff write a report of the attack and the rescue effort, from his point of view as a Chaplain, and send it directly to the White House. Part of the visiting team, Edward V. Hickey, Jr., Assistant to President Reagan, sent a now-declassified cable to the White House Situation Room, to the attention of James A. Baker III (Chief of Staff), Michael K. Deaver (Deputy Chief of Staff), and Robert “Bud” McFarlane (Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs), reporting what he personally witnessed in the aftermath of the attack, including the service of Rabbi Resnicoff and his fellow chaplains.

President Reagan Keynote

In April 1984, when President Reagan delivered the keynote address to the Baptist Fundamentalism ’84 convention led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, he told the attendees that he was going to do something that he had “never done before.” He was “going to read another man’s words” — the report from Beirut that he had received from Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff.

During the President’s remarks, a small group led a brief pre-planned demonstration, with chants and banners, “Bread Not Bombs.”  The video clip is unedited, and includes this demonstration. It is a poignant reminder of President Reagan at the height of his strength, as he handles the hecklers with dignity and power, and reminds us all of his respect for the courage of our military personnel. Wouldn’t it be nice,” he said, “if a little bit of that Marine spirit would rub off, and they would listen about brotherly love?”

The Story of the “Camouflage Kippa”

The “Camouflage Kippa,” which replaced Rabbi Resnicoff’s skullcap after it became dirty and bloody following the 1983 Truck Bomb Attack in Beirut, Lebanon
Rabbi Resnicoff’s usual black kippa.
Here with the Marines in Beirut, providing Foxhole Counseling (1984)

Excerpt from Rabbi Resnicoff’s blog post:

We didn’t know how long it would take for medical help to arrive, but it seemed like an eternity. We did what we could, literally tearing our clothing apart to use pieces to wipe blood and dirt from the faces of wounded Marines.  At one point, after tearing my t-shirt to shreds, I used the small black kippa that I regularly wore.

The “camouflage kippa” made with material Catholic chaplain Pucciarelli tore from the top of his uniform cap.
When we finally had a moment to catch our breath, “Pooch” (my friend, the Priest) tore off the top piece of his Marine camouflage cap, and brought it over to me, to wear. He told me that in that area of the world, where every religious group seemed to be gunning for every other group, he wanted our personnel to remember not only that we as chaplains helped everyone — regardless of  religion, and regardless of whether any of the wounded claimed a religion — but also that we did it side-by-side, Christian and Jew. (Today there are chaplains representing other faiths, as well.) “Interfaith cooperation” was not some academic theory for us. It was — and continues to be — our mission, and our way of life.

For the two years before that 1983 bombing, congress had been debating a “religious apparel amendment” that would allow Jewish military personnel in uniform to wear “neat and conservative” head coverings, but it failed to pass. (The general rule back then was that Jewish chaplains could keep their heads covered, but not non-chaplains — and sometimes even chaplains were not allowed that right.) Senator Lautenberg and Congressman Solarz, the two men behind the amendment, had the story of the camouflage kippa read into the Congressional Record, and they later told me they thought that story was the tipping point for passage.  Suddenly, the idea of a kippa in uniform was not just a question of uniformity, instead it became a symbol of unity: that despite all the religious and ethnic backgrounds of our military personnel, we were unified, working side by side, when the chips were down. That kippa became a symbol of how we were united in our fight for freedom, including religious freedom.

RESNICOFF, “The camouflage kippa: Memories of the1983 Beirut barracks bombing,” tHE BLOGS, The Times of israel (AUGUST 2023)