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Fort Mill family seeks damages from deadly ’83 Beirut attack

John Kees sits in the lap of his father, Marion Kees, in this 1970s photo. Marion Kees died in the Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in 1983. John is now 42 years old and living in Fort Mill, S.C.
John Kees sits in the lap of his father, Marion Kees, in this 1970s photo. Marion Kees died in the Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in 1983. John is now 42 years old and living in Fort Mill, S.C. COURTESY OF JOHN KEES

John Kees was only 11, but he will always remember his father’s funeral, the 21-gun salute, the playing of taps.

“It will never leave me,” Kees, now 42 and living in Fort Mill, S.C., told the Observer this week.

His father, Marion, was 35 when he died in the 1983 suicide truck bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

The blast killed 241 American service members and was the single deadliest attack on U.S. forces abroad since World War II.

Marion Kees was a Navy petty officer who’d worked as a nurse at the VA center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

He also was a doting dad, his son recalled, taking his son everywhere he went around town, even to the VA center.

“I’m proud of him,” John Kees said.

Last week in a New York federal court, Kees filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the government of Iran.

His lawyers asked the court to distribute billions of dollars in seized Iranian assets equally to all victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism – not just those who obtained early judgments from the attack.

In 2007, a federal judge entered a $2.65 billion judgment against Iran in a case brought by several hundred plaintiffs, mainly current and former members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. Kees wasn’t part of that case.

The judge based his ruling on evidence that several terrorist groups that participated in the attack, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, were backed by the Iranian government.

In 2008, the plaintiffs sued Iran’s central bank and Citibank to gain access to nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets.

A judge ordered that the assets be transferred to a fund for some, but not all, of Iran’s victims. Iran’s central bank has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kees joined a man who lost a brother in the attack and a Marine who was wounded in the bombing in seeking damages to come from the seized assets.

They made their request on behalf of all others who weren’t part of the original case but might qualify for damages.

Kees said his father was career military and a man who loved his son.

Kees saved all of the letters his father sent home from Beirut, keeping them in a cigar box, he said. They’d bonded over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his dad would ask how the team was doing.

Just like his dad, Kees became a nurse. And he spends all the time he can with his 10-year-old son, Jacob.

Because of his dad’s example, Kees said, “I want to be the best dad I can.”

Marusak: 704-358-5067;

Twitter: @jmarusak

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