Robert Dean Stethem
|Born||November 17, 1961|
Waterbury, Connecticut, U.S.
|Died||June 15, 1985 (aged 23)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1980–85|
|Rank|| Master chief constructionman (CUCM)|
Second-class diver (DV)
Team ONE (UCT-ONE)
Robert Dean Stethem (November 17, 1961 – June 15, 1985) was a United States Navy Seabee diver who was murdered by Hezbollah terrorists during the hijacking of the commercial airliner he was aboard, TWA Flight 847. At the time of his death, his Navy rating was Steelworker Second Class (SW2). He was posthumously promoted to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM).
Stethem was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, but grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Waldorf, Maryland. He was one of four children. His father, Richard Stethem, retired from the Navy as a Senior Chief after 20 years, continuing to work for it as a civilian afterwards. His mother, Patricia, served in the Navy before raising her family, continuing to serve in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces afterwards. His brother, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Kenneth Stethem was a Navy SEAL and brother Diver First Class Patrick Stethem served in Underwater Construction Team One for 10 years – the same unit in which Robert served. Stethem had one sister, Sheryl Sierralta.
Stethem joined the Navy shortly after graduating, reporting for duty on May 4, 1981.
In the Navy, Stethem was a Seabee Steelworker assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 62 in Gulfport, Mississippi. He served multiple tours on Diego Garcia and Guam. Later, Stethem became a 2nd Class Navy Diver and was assigned to the Navy's Underwater Construction Team One in Little Creek, Virginia.
TWA Flight 847
On June 14, 1985, Stethem was returning from an assignment in Nea Makri, Greece, aboard TWA Flight 847 when it was hijacked by members of the Lebanese pro-Iranian organization Hezbollah. The hijackers held 39 people hostage for 17 days, demanding the release of 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
When their demands were not met, Stethem, as a member of the U.S. military, was targeted, beaten, and tortured. Finally, the hijackers shot him in the temple and dumped his body onto the tarmac at the Beirut airport.
One of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was arrested two years later in Frankfurt, Germany. He was tried and convicted of Stethem's murder and sentenced to life in prison but was released in 2005 after serving 19 years. Three others, Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa, were eventually indicted for their involvement in the incident. In 2002, they were added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. On February 13, 2008, Mugniyah was killed in an explosion in Damascus, Syria. On September 21, 2019, an unnamed hijacker was arrested while disembarking a cruise ship that had ported in Greece. His identity came up as being wanted by Germany during a passport check.
Awards and decorations
On August 24, 2010, in Yokosuka, Japan, on board the ship named after him – the USS Stethem (DDG-63) – Stethem was made an honorary Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM) by order of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. His brother, Kenneth, accepted the certificate and decorations on behalf of the Stethem family.
On April 24, 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented the Prisoner of War medal to Stethem's parents.
The following are named after Stethem:
- The Robert D. Stethem Memorial Sports Complex, Waldorf, Maryland
- The Robert D. Stethem Educational Center, a vocational school in Pomfret, Maryland
- Robert D. Stethem Barracks, Training Support Center Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Stethem Memorial Navy Lodge, Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Mississippi
- Headquarters building and a street on the base, Port Hueneme Naval Construction Training Center, near Oxnard, California
- USS Stethem (DDG-63), an Aegis Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, commissioned 1995
In popular culture
- Thinking of Robert Dean Stethem June 13, 2010 New York Sun editorial
- "WNLL 30th Anniversary and Opening Day Ceremonies: A Special Tribute" (PDF). Waldorf National Little League. April 19, 2008. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- Borch, Fred L. (2010). For Military Merit - Recipients of the Purple Heart. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-1-59114-086-3.
- Unofficial Arlington Cemetery Page – Robert Dean Stethem
- Stethem, Katherine Curtis (February 14, 2008). "At Last, It Feels Like a New Day". The New York Sun. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- Robert D. Stethem Memorial Sports Complex. Charles County, Maryland. Retrieved September 29,2 013.
- "Welcome to Your Navy in Gulf Coast Mississippi". Benchmark Publications, Inc. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- Vanhala, Helena (2011). The Depiction of Terrorists in Blockbuster Hollywood Films, 1980–2001: An Analytical Study. McFarland. p. 163. ISBN 978-0786456901.