WILMETTE (CBS) — More than 200 people, including the mother and sisters of fallen Marine Sgt. John Phillips, took part in a ceremony unveiling a plaque to Phillips, 29 years after the Wilmette man died in a Beirut bombing attack.
The dedication of a newly installed memorial plaque and landscaping around the flagpole outside of the Wilmette Public Library was expected to draw about 30 people.
“It speaks volumes about the community,” said Eagle Scout candidate Ryan Evenson, a 16-year-old member of Wilmette Troop 3 who approached the library and Phillips’ family earlier this year with the idea, to be done as part of his Eagle Scout project.
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Phillips and 298 others died in the early-morning September 1983 bombing of a building being used as barracks for U.S. troops stationed in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon.
He remains the last member of the U.S. Armed Forces from Wilmette to die while on active duty overseas.
Those who jammed a library conference room heard retired Marine Col. Craig Hales, a family friend of Evenson, describe the bombing and its aftermath. Hales was about 300 yards from the barracks when the 19-ton bomb exploded.
“I thought the room next to me had taken a direct hit,” Hales said.
He recalled nightmarish conditions.
“Dust and debris and smoke were everywhere. It was a scary day,” he said. “We went to the front of the building and it wasn’t long after that that we started to see some of the walking wounded.”
As he assisted them, he learned what had happened said no one believed that the barracks could be destroyed.
“Looking back, that may have been the beginning of the war on terror,” he said.
Hales praised Evenson.
“You’ve got a young man who’s trying to be an Eagle Scout who could have done many other projects, but it shows a lot about him and his family and the character of this community that they made a decision that for his Eagle Scout project, he would put a plaque and stone, an engraved plaque, in memory of a Marine who died in 1983,” he said.
Until now, the only visible memorial was a sticker affixed to the flagpole, which was erected in 1984.
“I had a sense of gratitude that someone would care enough to think that this was important enough to revitalized and revive it,” said Phillips’ youngest sister, Elizabeth Moy.
The plaque depicts Phillips in his Marine dress blues.A wreath of roses and carnations was placed next to it during the dedication ceremony.
Evenson said his work on the memorial will not be a one-time thing. He said he intends to do maintenance on it, as needed, for years to come and said he will be assisted in that effort by his father, who is also a retired Marine.
For now, he’s gratified by the show of support.
“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” he said.