By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, USA — On Friday, officials from US Southern Command and the US Embassy in Grenada were due to join leaders from Grenada and its eastern Caribbean neighbours to commemorate the 30th anniversary of a multinational intervention that rescued Grenada from chaos and restored the security and democratic institutions it enjoys today.
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of US Southern Command; Larry Palmer, US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, and families of the 19 US service members killed and US veterans of the mission will mark what Grenadians have come to call “Thanksgiving Day.”
Hosted by Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell and Gov. Gen. Cecile La Grenade, they were due to attend Thanksgiving Day services, lay a wreath at the Intervention Memorial Monument and attend a ceremony honouring the US service members who lost their lives in the operation.
Among those accompanying Kelly to the ceremonies will be Nelson Del Valle, a conference coordinator for Southcom’s Regional Engagement Branch. For Del Valle, who works regularly with officials from nations throughout its area of responsibility, including Grenada, to promote partnership and cooperation, the visit is profoundly personal.
Del Valle was a 23-year-old Marine corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC, when he got the call during a late October 1983 evening ordering him to report to base with his gear. He and eight other members of the 2nd Marine Division’s interrogation unit were loaded on a helicopter and flown to Pope Air Force Base, NC, where they joined soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division based at neighbouring Fort Bragg.
“We all thought we were going to Beirut,” Del Valle recalled, assuming they were part of a response to the US Marine barracks attack in Lebanon just two days earlier that had left 241 US service personnel dead, most of them Marines.
But seated together in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the troops were told that they were headed to Grenada for a mission the military had code-named Operation Urgent Fury.
They learned during their onboard intelligence briefing that Grenada’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop had been abducted and assassinated during a bloody coup, throwing the tiny island nation into escalating violence. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, as well as the nations of Barbados and Jamaica, appealed to the United States for help.
The United States responded with its first major military operation since the Vietnam War.
A nearly 8,000-member joint force, designated Joint Task Force 120, included the Army’s Rapid Deployment Force, made up of Rangers from the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions and 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, the Army Special Forces, Marines, the Navy’s Independence Carrier Battle Group, and Navy SEALS and Air Force fighting and airlift wings.
Joining them were about 300 members of the Caribbean Peace Forces, fielded from Jamaica, Barbados and the eastern Caribbean.
The goal was three-fold: to protect innocent lives; prevent the chaos from escalating; and help restore government institutions and rule of law in Grenada.
The intervention began early in the morning of Oct. 25, 1983, with a parachute assault by Army Rangers at Point Salines and a Marine assault at Pearl.