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Special Project: America's Wall: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

Navy Seabee Robert Stethem Killed By Hijackers 27 Years Ago Today

On this day 27 years ago, Navy Seabee Diver Robert D. Stethem was killed by terrorists hijackers aboard TWA Flight 847.

Even though I was just a kid when the hijacking took place, I remember the TV news announcement of Stethem's death as if it were yesterday. Feeling almost nauseated at the careless way the hijackers dumped his body on the airport tarmac. Being told by my parents that the only reason he was killed was because he was identified as a member of the U.S. military.

According to The History Channel, Shiite Hezbollah terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847 as it flew from Athens to Rome, and forced the plane to land in Beirut, Lebanon. The hijackers first scoured the plane for Israeli passengers and those of Jewish descent. They then switched their attention the group of Navy Seabees on board.

The Navy posthumously awarded Stethem the Bronze Star for his heroism aboard the doomed flight. His citation reads in part:

Petty Officer Stethem displayed exceptional valor and professional integrity while a hostage of militant Shi'ite hijackers... Exhibiting physical, moral, and emotional courage beyond extraordinary limits, Petty Officer Stethem endured a senseless and brutal beating at the hands of his fanatical captors. He drew upon an unwavering inner strength and absorbed the punishment. The hijackers were infuriated by his refusal to succumb, a symbol to them of the strength of the United States of America; and in their cowardly desperation, shot him to death.

I suppose the day Robert Stethem died was the day I truly realized what terrorism was. Do you have any memories of that day?

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