RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Transportation has partnered with the City of Jacksonville and the Beirut Memorial Advisory Board to establish a Beirut Memorial Grove that will honor the 273 service members who died as a result of the bombing at the headquarters building of the United States Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983. The new grove, which will include 273 Autumn Flowering Cherry Trees to commemorate each life lost, will carry on the legacy of the Beirut Memorial Bradford Pear Trees planted along Lejeune Boulevard in the 1980s.
“NCDOT is honored to play a part in creating a permanent home for the trees that memorialize the precious lives lost and pay tribute to the many community efforts to remember the service and sacrifice of these brave individuals and their families,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said. “These Marines deserve to have a memorial in their honor that stands tall just as they did 30 years ago.”
The original Beirut Memorial Bradford Pear Trees were planted along Lejeune Boulevard in the 1980s through a program established by the City’s Beautification and Appearance Commission. The planting of the trees was a community effort, with students at Northwoods Park Middle School sending letters to the families of those injured and killed and raising funds for memorial trees. One student auctioned off her Cabbage Patch doll in return for $1,500 for memorial trees.
Over time, many of the original trees planted on Lejeune Boulevard were damaged or relocated to improve safety along the route and to accommodate highway improvements as part of the new Base Entry Road interchange being constructed near Bell Fork Road. The $11.5 million project was awarded to contractor Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. and is scheduled for completion in December 2014.
The site selected for the memorial grove is a triangular, 12-acre elevated plot within the U.S. 17/N.C. 24/U.S. 258 interchange near Camp Geiger that serves as an entrance onto the Jacksonville Bypass. NCDOT is constructing the site and the City of Jacksonville will be responsible for maintaining it.
The project cost to NCDOT is $700,000 and it is being funded through money allocated for landscaping on the Jacksonville Bypass project. In addition to the 273 trees, the grove will also have double knockout roses and daylilies around the perimeter. Work began on the site last week and the new trees, which were selected in great part because they bloom in October, are expected to be blooming at the time of next year’s ceremony.
Secretary Tata, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, spoke at this morning’s 30th annual Beirut Memorial Observance Ceremony held at the Beirut Memorial Site in the Camp Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
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