Robert Stethem

Robert Dean Stethem (November 17, 1961 – June 15, 1985) was a United States Navy Seabee diver who was murdered by Hezbollah fighters during the hijacking of the commercial airliner he was aboard, TWA Flight 847.[1] At the time of his death, his Navy rating was Steelworker Second Class (SW2). He was posthumously promoted to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM).[2]

Robert Dean Stethem
SW2 Robert Stethem.jpg
Born(1961-11-17)November 17, 1961
Waterbury, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedJune 15, 1985(1985-06-15) (aged 23)
Beirut, Lebanon
Resting place (38°52′41″N 77°03′57″W / 38.8780°N 77.0658°W / 38.8780; -77.0658)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1981–85
RankUSN CUCM.png MCPO collar.png Rating Badge ND.jpg Master chief constructionman (CUCM)
Second-class diver (DV)
UnitUnderwater Construction

Early lifeEdit

Stethem was born in Waterbury, Connecticut,[3] 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.[2]

He graduated from Thomas Stone High School in 1980, where he played defensive back on the varsity and junior varsity football teams. He also played Little League baseball.[2]

Stethem joined the Navy shortly after graduating, reporting for duty on May 4, 1981.[2]

Navy careerEdit

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.[2]

TWA Flight 847Edit

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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[5]

Awards and decorationsEdit

Stethem was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.[3] He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery Section 59, Grave 430 (38°52′41″N 77°03′57″W / 38.8780°N 77.0658°W / 38.8780; -77.0658), near other American victims of international terrorism.[4]

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.[6]

On April 24, 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presented the Prisoner of War medal to Stethem's parents.


Crest of the USS Stethem (DDG-63)

The following are named after Stethem:

In popular cultureEdit

A scene from the movie The Delta Force shows a U.S. Navy diver being beaten, tortured, killed and his body being dumped onto the tarmac. This scene is based on Stethem's encounter.[10]

Stethem was portrayed by Steven Eckholdt in the 1988 TV movie The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Thinking of Robert Dean Stethem June 13, 2010 New York Sun editorial
  2. ^ a b c d e "WNLL 30th Anniversary and Opening Day Ceremonies: A Special Tribute" (PDF). Waldorf National Little League. April 19, 2008. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ a b c d Unofficial Arlington Cemetery Page – Robert Dean Stethem
  5. ^ Stethem, Katherine Curtis (February 14, 2008). "At Last, It Feels Like a New Day". The New York Sun. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  6. ^ "USS Stethem Holds Honorary Master Chief Frocking For Namesake". Yokosuka, Japan: United States Navy. August 25, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  7. ^ Robert D. Stethem Memorial Sports Complex. Charles County, Maryland. Retrieved September 29,2 013.
  8. ^ "Welcome to Your Navy in Gulf Coast Mississippi". Benchmark Publications, Inc. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  9. ^ "Named for Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Stethem". United States Navy. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  10. ^ Vanhala, Helena (2011). The Depiction of Terrorists in Blockbuster Hollywood Films, 1980–2001: An Analytical Study. McFarland. p. 163. ISBN 978-0786456901.

External linksEdit