At sundown in the Persian Gulf on 18 April 1988, a day filled with missiles, naval gunfire, and bombing, two Iranian oil platforms were aflame and several Iranian vessels, including three warships, were sunk or disabled. An American helicopter and two Marine pilots had been lost. The day’s conflict, involving nine American warships and a carrier air wing, remains the largest surface naval action for the United States since World War II.
The Middle East was as troubled and difficult a region for the United States in the 1980s as it is today. Beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis and continuing with the Beirut barracks bombing that killed 241 Americans and the Iran-Contra scandal, a series of military and diplomatic failures lowered U.S. prestige and standing among Persian Gulf countries. By the mid-1980s, the ongoing land war between Iran and Iraq spilled over into the gulf and threatened oil shipments, the economic lifeline of the Western alliance.