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Ceremonies honor fallen heroes

Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News / Steve Reep lowers the Marine Corps flag to half mast Wednesday at a memorial service in remembrance of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983 and Captain Jeb Seagle, who was killed in Grenada that same month.

Servicemen Mercer, Seagle remembered for valor, patriotism

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

Two local military men who each lost their lives during overseas missions two days apart in October 1983 were honored this week in Lincoln County. Captain Jeb Franklin Seagle, of Lincolnton, died at the age of 30 following a helicopter crash off the Caribbean island of Grenada while Sgt. Michael D. Mercer, of Vale, lost his life at age 28 during a terrorist attack on Marine battalion headquarters at the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon. This month marks the 30th anniversary of both military tragedies. The men’s lives and fearless feats were the focus of separate remembrance ceremonies conducted by the Capt. Jeb F. Seagle Marine Corps League Detachment 1265. The United States invaded Grenada following a military coup on the island. After Seagle’s helicopter was shot down the day of the invasion — Oct. 25 — he still managed to save the life of a dear friend, Capt. Timothy Howard, before being captured and killed himself, Marine Corps League members said. Seagle served as pilot of the AH-1T (TOW) Cobra attack helicopter. However, the memory of Seagle’s heroic efforts failed to go unnoticed by either his fellow military men or hometown community. Not only was he posthumously awarded the first Navy Cross since the Vietnam War, nearly a decade earlier, Marine Corps League members said, but local city officials also named an area roadway after him. Jeb Seagle Drive runs alongside part of Lincolnton High School’s property.
According to homeofheroes.com, the prestigious award ranks higher than the branch’s Distinguished Service Medal and just below the Medal of Honor.
On Oct. 23, two days before the Grenada invasion, an individual with the Iranian-backed, Lebanese Shiite terrorist group, Hezbollah, still in the early stages of its formation at the time, drove a TNT-loaded truck straight through a U.S. Marine battalion gate, detonating the flammable compound and destroying a four-story barracks building.
Not since the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima had the Marines suffered such a deadly attack in one single day.
Mercer was one of more than 200 military servicemen killed in the attack. Many of the sleeping victims stemmed from the 24th Marines Amphibious Unit at Camp Lejeune, various news media outlets have said.
Minutes after the attack, terrorists conducted a second bombing at a nearby building that housed French military forces.
Mercer’s parents said he often wrote and phoned home during his time overseas but never let on that he was in any sort of danger.
He had been in Lebanon with the Marine unit since June and was set to return home to North Carolina before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Following the incident in Grenada, Marines who were scheduled to relieve Mercer and his fellow men were instead sent to the Caribbean.
Mercer is buried next to the graves of his mother and stepfather at Hull’s Grove Baptist Church’s cemetery in Vale.
Seagle’s grave is located at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vale.
Both men joined the Marines following college.
Seagle, an alumni of Lincolnton High School, attended Appalachian State University while Mercer, an alumni of Newton-Conover High School, graduated from Western Carolina University.
Capt. Jeb F. Seagle Marine Corps League member and veteran Steve Reep, of Boger City, said the detachment maintains at least 17 members.
A retired sergeant master gunner who served three decades in the military, Reep was stationed at Camp LeJeune when the Beirut attack occurred, he said. He woke around 2 a.m. to see the news coverage on TV.
He noted how, at the time, every Marine was anxious to head overseas and fight for the lost men.
“I had friends that were there and killed,” Reep said with tears in his eyes. “Guys were saying, ‘No, I’ll quit if I don’t get to go to Lebanon.’”
He now suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and tremors he said he developed from a trial antibiotic the military gave him and fellow Marines to prevent anthrax poisoning during the Gulf War.
Reep also expressed his shock over the Grenada attack, noting how no one expected anyone to die during the mission.
On Tuesday, the local Marine Corps League honored Mercer and Seagle’s legacies, placing a wreath in front of the men’s war memorial in front of the Lincoln County courthouse.
A number of other local service men who died in combat are listed on the stone memorial.
The Capt. Jeb F. Seagle Marine Corps League Detachment 1265 will again honor Seagle during a half-time presentation tonight at Lincolnton High School’s home football matchup against Newton-Conover. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
The group will also host a gravesite ceremony for Seagle 11 a.m. at Trinity Lutheran, located at 6319 Reepsville Road.
High school friend Bill Ward — Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery and Chief of Musculoskeletal Service Line at Pennsylvania’s Guthrie Clinic — expressed his gratitude and fondness for Seagle in an email.
He pointed out the military man’s “uncommon valor, bravery under fire and disregard for personal safety” while overseas.
“Jeb was an incredible individual,” Ward said, “and for those of us who were fortunate enough to know and love him consider ourselves blessed for having done so.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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