Stethem (November 17, 1961 - June 15, 1985) was a United States Navy Seabee
diver who was killed by Hezbollah militants during the hijacking of the
commercial airliner he was aboard: TWA Flight 847. His Navy rating was Steel
Worker Second Class (SW2).
Robert Stethem was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, but grew up in Virginia
Beach, Virginia & Waldorf, Maryland. He was one of four children. His
father and two brothers also served in the U.S. Navy. His mother was a
civilian Navy administrator. He graduated from Thomas Stone High School in
1980, where he played defensive back on the varsity and junior varsity
football teams. He joined the Navy shortly after graduating.
In the Navy, Stethem was a Seabee Steelworker assigned to NMCB-62 in
Gulfport, MS. Assigned to NMCB-62, Stethem 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 in Little Creek,
In June 1985, Petty Officer Stethem was returning from an assignment in Nea
Makri, Greece aboard TWA Flight 847 when it was hijacked by members of the
Lebanese organization Hezbollah. The hijackers held 39 people hostage for 17
days, demanding the release of 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by
When their demands were not met, Stethem was targeted as a member of the U.S.
military, and was beaten and tortured. Finally, the hijackers shot him 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. He was
sentenced to life in jail. 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, Imad Mugniyah was killed in an explosion in Damascus, Syria.
Mohammed Ali Hammadi was paroled in December 2005 and returned to Lebanon. It
is speculated that he was released in a prisoner swap in exchange for the
release of Susanne Osthoff, who was kidnapped in Iraq one month earlier.
It was reported by Pakistani intelligence Mohammed Ali Hammadi was killed in
June 2010 in Pakistan along the Afghanistan border by a US Drone along with
10 other foreigners staging attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Awards and decorations
Stethem was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He is
buried in Arlington National Cemetery Section 59, near other American victims
of international terrorism.
In 1995, the U.S. Navy launched an Aegis Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, the
USS Stethem (DDG-63) in his honor.
In his hometown of Waldorf, there is a sports complex named in his honor on
Piney Church Road, in the center of which is a large stone memorial to
Stethem, above which a U.S. flag flies. There is also a Vocational school
located in Pomfret, Maryland named the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center.
In Virginia Beach, Virginia there is a barracks named in his honor at Damneck
Naval Base. A Navy Lodge in Gulfport, Mississippi also bears his name. In
addition, the Port Hueneme Naval Construction Training Center Headquarters
Building and a street on the base in his honor.
Robert D. Stethem Memorial Park includes 10 ball fields, two of which have
90-foot infields; the complex is the main complex for Waldorf American and
Waldorf National Little Leagues. It was opened in 1990 and boasts a memorial
stone 75 yards from Stethem's memorial, which includes a tribute plaque to
several former Waldorf players, as well as local umpires and district
officials who have lost their lives.
In October 1995, the US Navy commissioned an Aegis Class Destroyer, DDG 63,
the USS Stethem in his honor for his bravery and sacrifice.
On August 24, 2010 onboard USS Stethem in Yokosuka, Japan, Robert Dean
Stethem was made an honorary Constructionman Master Chief Petty Officer by
the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.
USS STETHEM (DDG
63) is the 13th ship of the DDG 51 ARLEIGH BURKE Aegis Destroyer program, and
the sixth to be built by Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries
in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Construction of STETHEM began at Ingalls on May
18, 1992 and the ship’s keel was laid on May 11, 1993. DDG 63 was launched on
June 17, 1994 and was christened “STETHEM” by Mrs. Patricia L. Stethem,
mother of the ship’s namesake, Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem, on July 16,
STETHEM transited the Panama Canal and was commissioned on October 21, 1995
in Port Hueneme, California, home of the SEABEE’s. Shortly afterward, STETHEM
moved to her new homeport of San Diego, CA.
On February 15, 1996, STETHEM successfully completed her Post Delivery Test
and Trials, signifying her readiness for combat operations. On the night of
November 23, 1996, while returning from a port visit to Victoria, British
Columbia, STETHEM was diverted on a Search and Rescue mission to recover
survivors of a downed U.S. Air Force C-130 off the coast of northern
California. STETHEM and her two small boats patrolled the seas in the
vicinity of the crash for twenty hours while engaged in recovery efforts, for
which she was awarded the U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Unit commendation Medal.
STETHEM was recognized for her spectacular achievements during her first year
of service by winning the 1996 Destroyer Squadron Twenty-One Battle
Efficiency Award for outstanding ship-wide mission readiness.
On April 4, 1997, Commander Steven Miller, the Pre-commissioning Commanding
Officer, was relieved by Commander James O’Keefe III. STETHEM sailed to the
Arabian Gulf for her maiden overseas deployment in May and reported for
duties in Bahrain in July 3. Over the course of the next three months, she served
as primary Air Warfare Commander, Surface Warfare Commander, Ready Strike
Platform, and LINK Coordinator. While fulfilling these multiple warfare
roles, STETHEM provided support to both the CONSTELLATION and JOHN F. KENNEDY
Battle Groups and U.S. Air force aircraft engaged in Operation Southern
Watch. STETHEM supported United Nations Security Council resolutions against
Iraq, conducting 54 boardings and inspections of suspected sanctions
STETHEM’s first deployment included port visits to Singapore, Malaysia,
Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Perth and Sydney, Australia. She
returned to San Diego in November 1997 to begin her second inter-deployment
Starting with an outstanding command Assessment of Readiness for Training
(CART II) in May 1998, STETHEM set the standard for tailored training by
demonstrating exceptional proficiency in Combat Systems, Navigation,
Engineering, Mobility, Damage Control, and Logistics Management. STETHEM’s
training teams’ commitment to mission readiness resulted in the validation of
all Final Evaluation Period objectives during Tailored Shipboard Training
Availability Phase III (TSTA III) - a first for any Surface Combatant. On
September 25, Commander O’Keffe was relieved as Commanding Officer by
Commander Gerard Hueber.
On April 16, 1999, STETHEM departed on her second deployment to the Arabian
Gulf as part of Middle East Force 99-2. After port visits to Guam, Saipan,
Singapore, and Thailand, STETHEM reported for duty in the Gulf and quickly
went to work conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations and Maritime
Interception Operations. Over the course of her seventy-six days on station,
STETHEM served as Air Warfare Commander, Ready Strike Platform, and Force
Over-the-Horizon Track Coordinator and also had the opportunity to support
the THEODORE ROOSEVELT Battle Group as Air Warfare Carrier Escort and Plane
Guard. After serving a second time as command ship for Northern Arabian Gulf
Maritime Interception Operations, STETHEM transited the Strait of Hormuz on
August 13. After port visits to Fremantle and Port Kembla, Australia and
Suva, Fiji, the ship arrived home in San Diego on October 4.
In January the ship was honored for her achievements and awarded with the
1999 Destroyer Squadron Twenty-One Battle Efficiency Award, her second such
award in just over four years of service. She was the recipient of the
Raytheon CIWS Award, the Pacific Force Retention Award, and the Safety Award.
On April 6, 2000, Chief Boatswain’s Mate (SEAL/EOD) Kenneth Stethem, Robert’s
brother, honored the ship by retiring after twenty years of faithful and
valorous service in the Special Warfare community. On April 7, Commander
Gerard Hueber was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander Craig S.
In mid-September 2000 and during a port visit in San Francisco, STETHEM was
called out to sea by the Joint Inter-Agency Task force West. STETHEM escorted
fishing vessel Gran Tauro, caught with over five metric tons of uncut cocaine
aboard – a net worth of over $500 million, to San Diego. The waning days of
December were spent conducting final preparations for the MEF 01-1 Deployment
and relaxing after another successful year of operations and training.
The ship was honored for her achievements and awarded with the 2000 Destroyer
Squadron Twenty-One Battle Efficiency Award for the second consecutive year.
On January 13, 2001, STETHEM departed on her third deployment to the Arabian
Gulf as part of MEF 01-1. After port visits to Hawaii, Guam, Singapore, and Thailand,
STETHEM in-chopped FIFTH Fleet on February 28, 2001. Over the course of her
sixty-eight days on station in the Arabian Gulf, STETHEM conducted Maritime
Interception Operations, served as Air Warfare Commander, supported Operation
Southern Watch, served as a ready strike platform, and participated as a key
player in two international naval exercises, Arabian Gauntlet and Neon
Falcon. Maritime Interception Operations resulted in the capture of Motor
Vessel Diamond, the third largest arrest of an oil-smuggling sanctions
violator since the gulf War. STETHEM escorted the HARRY S. TRUMAN through the
Strait of Hormuz on 27 April and, after port visits to Oman, Singapore,
Darwin and Cairns, Australia, American Samoa, and Hawaii, the ship arrived
home in San Diego on June 28 2001.
On the 21st of November, surrounded by family and friends in San Diego,
Commander Craig S. Faller was relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander
David W. Melin. November 21st, also marked STETHEM’s change of Immediate
Superior in Command (ISIC) from Commander Destroyer Squadron 21 to the
“Little Beavers” under Commander Destroyer Squadron 23. STETHEM completed her
first Drydock Selective Restricted Availability (DSRA.) and the first
installation phase of the Tactical Tomahawk Weapons Control System (TTWCS) in
December. Also, in December, STETHEM was designated the sole test ship for
the developing Tactical Tomahawk Weapons system.
On January 31st, 2002, STETHEM performed the first foreign port visit by a
U.S. Pacific Fleet ship after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While in Puerto Vallarta the STEELWORKERs donated
their time to paint an orphanage, touching in a positive way the lives of
many less fortunate children. In the ensuing months STETHEM embarked on her
third Inter Deployment Training Cycle (IDTC) and served as Command Destroyer
Squadron 23’s Flagship throughout the month of February. In March, STETHEM
completed the Command Assessment of Readiness for Training II (CART II).
Between the weeks of April 1 and May 3, 2002, STETHEM completed the Tailored
Ship’s Training Availability period. On May 6 STETHEM served as the
opposition forces for the ABRAHAM LINCOLN Carrier Battle Group’s Joint Task
Force Exercise (JTFEX).
In early June, STETHEM ensured her seventh Engineering Command excellance
award as a result of outstanding performance during the Engineering Underway
Demonstration. On July 8-12, she commenced a Supply Management Assessment
which was upgraded to an Inspection because of her exemplary Combat Logistics
readiness. Returning to the site of her commissioning in 1995, at the end of
July, STETHEM took part in the 60th Anniversary of SEABEE Days in Port
Hueneme, CA in honor of her namesake. She then transited to Everett, WA, embarked
families and friends for the short transit to participate in the Seattle
Seafair Festival. On September 12, 2002, STETHEM was given the distinct
privilege of leading the Parade of Sail into San Diego Bay. In the beginning
of October, STETHEM occupied a place of honor downtown at Broadway Pier as
part of San Diego’s Fleet Week Celebration. While at Broadway Pier, STETHEM
safely hosted the first public Navy ship tours in San Diego after the
September 11th attacks. Soon afterward, on October 16, STETHEM successfully
launched the first Tomahawk Cruise Missile using the new Tactical Tomahawk
Weapons Control System (TTWCS). At the end of October, STETHEM once again
played the role of opposition force, this time for the CONSTELLATION Carrier
In January 2003, STETHEM played the opposition force role for the NIMITZ
Carrier Battle Group. On February 5, 2003, STETHEM returned to Puerto
Vallarta, Mexico, for another port visit. Working with the San Diego and
Puerto Vallarta Navy League Chapters, STETHEM delivered medical equipment for
distribution to handicapped residents of Puerto Vallarta. The STEELWORKERs
also painted the local library frequented by many of Puerto Vallarta’s school
children. On April 5, 2003, STETHEM successfully performed the first ever
surface ship launch of a Block IV Tactical Tomahawk Cruise Missile, bringing
it one big step closer to fleet introduction. This was followed up on 08 May
with the first surface ship launch of a Block IV Tactical Tomahawk Cruise
Missile with a live warhead. After the missile left the launcher, STETHEM’s
strike team became the first to demonstrate Tactical Tomahawk’s post launch
execution capability when they redirected the missile in flight. Both the
team and the missile performed flawlessly completely destroying the intended
target on San Clemente Island after over 2 hours and 700 miles of missile
On May 14th, after a two week Intermediate Maintenance Availability, STETHEM
sailed in support of a different kind of missile firing exercise. During this
exercise STETHEM’s Airwarfare Team engaged two air borne targets with
Standard Missiles. After this successful engagement, STETHEM celebrated by
transiting north to Juneau, Alaska and Victoria, B. C. for some well deserved
rest and relaxation. All of the STEELWORKER’s took advantage of great
opportunities for sightseeing and shopping.
Returning from her trek up North in June, STETHEM rested for one week and
then put back to sea to serve as the Opposition Force against Pacific Fleet’s
first Expeditionary Strike Group which was headed up by USS PELELIU.
On July 3, 2003, surrounded by friends and family, Commander David W. Melin
was relieved by Commander Charles F. Williams. Today, we are continuing our
successes with our new Commander and our great crew.
from USS Stethem Public Affairs