Monday, Oct. 25, 1993
Beirut postage stamp suggestion 'rebuffed' by U.S. Postal Service
By CHAD WEIHRAUCH
Collegian Staff Writer
Debrah Hendrickson can't find the postage stamp she wants, no matter how many post offices she visits.
The stamp she wants doesn't exist.
Hendrickson of Jacksonville, N.C., and friends and relatives of 273 Marines who died in a Marine Corps barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, or of injuries resulting from the explosion are trying to honor their loved ones with a commemorative U.S. postage stamp. The bombing happened ten years ago Saturday, on Oct. 23, 1983.
For seven years they have tried to convince the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp commemorating the tragedy in Beirut.
"Basically they're getting rebuffed by the people in the Postal Service," said Michael Ellzey, a member of the Beirut Memorial Advisory Committee who is involved with the campaign.
Three years ago, Debrah Hendrickson's husband, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Walter Hendrickson, died of multiple sclerosis exacerbated by organic brain syndrome -- a disease he developed after the bombing.
John Hendrickson was in a tent 75 meters from the makeshift barracks, located near a runway at the Beirut International Airport, when the driver of a truck loaded with more than 12,000 pounds of explosives rammed into the four-story building. Years later, John Hendrickson still could not remember the explosion -- only that he woke up covered with concrete.
The thousands of suggestions for new stamps the Postal Service receives every year are reviewed by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, a group made up of 15 citizens from all over the country who meet four times a year. After the members review the list of stamp proposals, the committee makes its recommendations to the Postmaster General, who has the final say.
"We try to honor positive things," said Mary Ann Owens, a member of the advisory committee from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Owens said the Beirut incident does not fit the criteria for a commemorative stamp. An event that is historically significant is considered only after its 50th anniversary, she said, adding that, other than the Marines' families, she does not think anyone would buy and use the stamp.
"(People) want the noncontroversial, pretty stamps," she said.
But the loved ones of those who died in Beirut disagree.
"For somebody to tell a Beirut widow that your husband's life was not significant enough to warrant a commemorative stamp . . . I can't believe that," Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson, along with Beirut Connection, an organization made up of Beirut veterans and survivors, has lobbied everyone from the Postmaster General to former presidents in her effort to have a stamp issued. So far, all she has gotten is excuses.
On Sept. 14, she and other supporters visited Washington, D.C., with over 20,000 signatures from people in favor of a Beirut stamp. They met with the secretary to the Postmaster General and the chairman of the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee.
The group was told then that no stamp had been issued "because (Beirut) lacked significance in American history, and not enough people had been killed," Hendrickson said.
Bill Welch, editor of The American Philatelist, a magazine aimed at stamp collectors, said the Postal Service must base its decisions on what stamps will sell.
"I think there also is the reality that we are more likely to commemorate our successes than our failures," said Welch, who is also a State College mayoral candidate.
But now, after the 10th anniversary of the bombing, the efforts to have a stamp issued have only gotten stronger.
In July 1991, less than four months after the Persian Gulf War ended, a commemorative stamp was issued for that effort.
"I don't begrudge them their stamp," Hendrickson said, but added, "They weren't even out of Saudi Arabia when the stamp was issued."
According to a U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress, 391 Americans died in incidents stemming from the Gulf War. And unlike the Marines, who were in Beirut on a peacekeeping mission, they knew they were going to war.
"I don't think you can compare the Gulf War with the Beirut campaign," said Robin Minard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in Washington.
"I think I would tell anyone . . . what we look for are subjects with widespread national appeal," she said.
Stephen Ryan, a retired Marine hospital corpsman and close friend of John Hendrickson, said he has seen stamps picturing everything from race horses to rock stars, along with the Gulf War stamps issued so shortly after the war ended.
"I can't emphasize enough my support for that," he said about the Desert Shield/Desert Storm commemorative stamps.
But when he is told by Postal Service officials that the death of the 273 Marines, including John Hendrickson, lacks national significance, he can only wonder.
"I don't buy that," he said. "I don't buy that at all."