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Divers to receive POW Medal, 30 years after hijacking

Six Navy divers held captive for 17 days in Beirut, Lebanon, by Islamic jihadists in 1985 during the 1985 hijacking of Trans-World Airlines flight 847 will be awarded the Prisoner of War Medal by Navy Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus at a private, late April ceremony in Washington, D.C.

All six divers, one of whom was murdered by the terrorists, are to be recognized for their sacrifice during the hijacking of Trans-World Airlines Flight 847, an act that shocked the world.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus approved the medals for all six divers, in December.

Among those getting the medal is Steelworker Second Class (DV) Robert D. Stethem will posthumously receive the award. He who was beaten by the hijackers and shot point blank in the temple, then his body was His body thrown onto the tarmac at Beirut International Airport. Stethem has been previously been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is named for him. In addition, the Navy honored him by naming a guided-missile destroyer after him as well.

060614-N-4953E-001 Yokosuka, Japan (June 15, 2006) - Guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) Sailors participate in a memorial for the shipÕs namesake, Robert D. Stethem. Navy diver, Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Stethem, who was returning from an assignment in the Middle East, when he was taken hostage aboard TWA 847 commercial airliner. The flight was hijacked by terrorists, and Stethem was shot to death after being tortured by the terrorists on June 15, 1985. USS Stethem (DDG 63) is currently a part of the Forward Deployed Naval Force stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and is dry docked for a three-month selective restricted availability. U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Danny Ewing Jr. (RELEASED)
060614-N-4953E-001 Yokosuka, Japan (June 15, 2006) - Guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) Sailors participate in a memorial for the shipÕs namesake, Robert D. Stethem. Navy diver, Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Stethem, who was returning from an assignment in the Middle East, when he was taken hostage aboard TWA 847 commercial airliner. The flight was hijacked by terrorists, and Stethem was shot to death after being tortured by the terrorists on June 15, 1985. USS Stethem (DDG 63) is currently a part of the Forward Deployed Naval Force stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and is dry docked for a three-month selective restricted availability. U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Danny Ewing Jr. (RELEASED)

Sailors aboard the destroyer Stethem participate in a memorial for the ship's namesake, Steelworker 2nd Class Robert D. Stethem, in 2006.

Photo Credit: Ensign Danny Ewing Jr./Navy

Stethem was part of a team of six divers from the Little Creek, Virginia-based Underwater Construction Team 1,One who were flying home June 14, 1985, after finishing a project had just finished a project in Nea Makri, Greece and were traveling home at the time of the hijacking.

"This award for these six Navy divers just kind of slipped through the cracks over the years," said retired Navy Capt.ain Bobbie Scholley who heads the Navy Diver Foundation, which researched the awards and forwarded the award package to the Navy to Mabus for consideration.

The five surviving team members returned home and went back to work and all had successful Navy careers as divers, Scholley said. The POW medal wasn't even approved by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan until November 1985 — four months after their ordeal," Scholley said.

"It just wasn't on anybody's radar at the time. It was really too new and as time went on, it just literally fell through the cracks — this is what the Navy Diver Foundation was founded to do and we're glad the request was so quickly approved by the secretary."

None of the five sought the medal himself, and efforts to have it awarded to the sailors started only after an acquaintance of one of the divers asked why he hadn't been awarded the POW medal for the incident, Sholley said.

It was that friend who brought the issue to Sholley's attention and ultimately started the ball rolling. saying it was just the kind work her foundation was formed to do — to honor Navy Divers and the work they do.

Final details for the ceremony are still being worked out, Scholley said. All five surviving members plan to attend to be awarded the medals by Mabus.

The five sailors who were held captive with Stethem: are Engineering Aid 1st Class (DV) Stuart L.J. Dahl; Construction Electrician 1st Class (DV) Tony D. Watson; Equipment Operator 1st Class (DV) Jeffrey J. Ingalls; Steelworker 2nd Class (DV) Kenneth M. Bowen; and Construction Electrician 2nd Class (DV) Clinton Suggs.

"All five haven't been together as a team since they returned home in 1985," Scholley said. "They agreed to have the medal presented them in person only if they could do it as a team — they were all still in captivity when Robert Stethem was buried at Arlington Cemetery in 1985, so this is a chance for them to come together and honor him as well."

The family of Robert Stethem, including his parents and two brothers, are expected to attend as well.

Though the Washington ceremony is being kept private, the three will be honored the first week in May when the Navy is celebrating 100 years of Navy Diving with a week-long celebration in Panama City, Fla., Scholley said and three of the five are expected to be in attendence.

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