Diogo Santos grew up with his friend Rui Manuel A. Relvas in Northeast Philly in a neighborhood thick with Portuguese-Americans.
“We looked for girls, played soccer, did everything young boys do,” he said.
Relvas, who was born in Portugal, was raised a proud American, and after graduating from high school, felt a call to service.
He volunteered for the Marines, where, after training, he asked to be stationed in Lebanon, which was the midst of a years-long, bloody civil war.
On October 23, 1983, suicide bombers attacked two military barracks in Beirut where American and French troops had been living. The attack killed 241 American servicemen, mostly Marines – nine of whom were from Philadelphia. The victims included Relvas, who was just 19 years old.
Santos recalls the feeling he got when he learned the news.
“It was a shock,” he said during a Memorial Day ceremony in Philadelphia. “I don’t know. Something came over me. I got cold.”
The Beirut bombing is the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II, but few know of the memorial to the bombing victims in Philadelphia. It sits behind the Korean War Memorial in Society Hill.
Santos hopes to change that, which is why every year on Memorial Day he hosts a gathering around the monument to keep the memory of the fallen from fading.
“It made me really appreciate what every one of these boys does. And I can’t thank them all enough for everything they’ve done throughout the years. I mean there’s so many heroes,” he said. “We need to keep their spirit alive.”
In addition to Relvas, Philadelphians Moses Arnold Jr., John J. Bonk, Thomas A. Hairston, Gilbert Hanton, John Muffler, Rafael Pomales-Torres, Louis J. Rotondo and Allen D. Wesley perished in the Beirut attack.
Below these names inscribed on the memorial reads: “If you forget my death, then I died in vain.”