GARDENDALE — A north Jefferson ministry is keeping alive the memory of a local man who was killed in a military-related action 30 years ago.
Jimmy Ray Cain was killed on Oct. 23, 1983, in the bombing of American and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 299 people, 241 of whom were American service members. Cain was a medic in the U.S. Navy, attached to the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.
He was among seven Alabama service members killed as a result of the explosion, which occurred when a truck loaded with the equivalent of six tons of TNT purposely crashed into the barracks.
The Marines were in Beirut as peacekeepers following the invasion of Lebanon by Israel.
Cain’s parents, Ray and Doris McDowell of Gardendale, are working with Jimmy Ray Kennedy of the Daystar Church International Motorcycle Ministry in Jesus LLC to organize a memorial service to mark the 30-year anniversary.
The Not Forgotten motorcycle ride and memorial is Nov. 2, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Black Creek Park in Fultondale.
In addition, there are events at the park all day including singing by various groups. There will also be food for sale, along with commemorative T-shirts, wrist bands and patches. Drawings for give-aways will take place after the ride.
Mayor Jim Lowery is scheduled to speak, along with a representative of the Wounded Warriors Association. American Legion Post 255 in Fultondale is also participating.
All proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Family Foundation.
There is no charge to participate in the ride, but Kennedy requests that all riders donate to the foundation.
The ride starts at 9:30 a.m. The first stop is in Gardendale, where Mayor Othell Phillips will present a wreath at the Veterans Memorial.
There will also be stops in Garden City and Hanceville before the riders travel back to Fultondale.
“I really feel honored to be able to do something like this,” said Kennedy. “We hope this grows into a continuing event to help the military people who are returning and their families.”
Doris McDowell said few people understand the needs of family members of military members who have been killed or injured, unless they have experienced it.
“It was a very tragic, very heartbreaking, very stressful time,” she said.
That is why she and her family strongly support the Wounded Warrior Family Foundation, which was founded in Montgomery by Lt. Col. Thomas Doane (U.S. Air Force, retired) and now has locations in many other places.
She and her family mark the anniversary of her son’s death in various ways, such as giving donations to scholarships and attending memorials at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Washington D.C.
McDowell said that on this year, the 30th anniversary, her family wanted to do something special in north Jefferson since Gardendale is the family’s hometown.
Many of the family members ride motorcycles, including McDowell’s husband Roy McDowell, who used to ride with the motorcycle corps with the Shriners.
She said that is why she thought of Kennedy and his motorcycle ministry, which in five years has expanded to 14 chapters and five honorary chapters.
McDowell said the families of six other Alabama service members who were killed in the Beirut bombing have been invited to the service. The military members are Lance Corporal William (Bill) Stelpflug of Auburn, Pfc. James Price of Attalla, Corporal Terry Lee Hudson of Pritchard, Corporal Leonard Walker of Dothan, Pfc. Jeffrey Todd Hattaway of Center Point and Corporal Shannon Dale Biddle of Dothan. She has been unable to locate any family members or friends of another Alabama service member, Corporal Henry Townsend Jr. of Montgomery.
McDowell said her son, who was 21 when he died, loved people, especially children.
“He had a heart for children,” said McDowell, adding that he volunteered at a children’s home near Camp Lejeune on his off days. “He was wonderful, but he was a typical young man. He did all the things that teenagers do sometimes.”
She talked to her son a week before he died. “He called home and talked to everyone,” she said.
Jimmy Ray Cain was on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut following the invasion by of Lebanon by Israel in 1982. McDowell said the troops there were not carrying weapons.
“He went out on patrols and patched up kids who were hit by sniper fire,” she said.
The family received Cain’s body on Nov. 17, after he was escorted home by long-time family friend Chris Conn.
“The city of Gardendale was wonderful to us during that time,” McDowell said.
“God has reasons for everything,” she said. “I’m just believing God is going to bless this (memorial ride and event) because it’s going for such a good cause.”
McDowell said volunteers are needed for the event. For more information, call her at 965-1617 or 590-4100.
Those who would like to make donations are invited to make checks to Wounded Warrior Family Foundation and mail them to 441 Hwy. 31 N, Warrior, AL 35068.
“My main goal is that these young men are remembered,” said McDowell. “The military, the ones that are left here alive, are the ones who need our help.”
There is also an account at IberiaBank in Fultondale where individuals can make donations to the Wounded Warriors Family Foundation.
Note: This version of the article corrects the spelling of two of the bombing victims' names.