U.S. Navy Seabee Diver Robert Stethem is being remembered by a church community in Northern Virginia 30 years after terrorists murdered him on board a passenger plane.
On June 14, 1985, the world’s attention focused on TWA Flight 847. Terrorists connected to Hezbollah hijacked the plane leaving Athens, en route to Rome. They diverted it to Beirut, Lebanon.
Stethem was among those on board.
“They singled out Petty Officer Stethem, recognizing that he was a U.S. military man. And subjected him to over 24 hours of constant, brutal beatings,” said Ret. Captain Bobbie Scholley of the US Navy. “The terrorists coldly shot Petty Officer Stethem and threw him from the plane onto the tarmac.”
Stethem's older brother, Ken, said his brother was so badly beaten, at first they didn’t think it was him.
“I sat there and looked at the photo, looked at the photo and I realized I couldn’t tell it was him from the face, but I gave him the shirt that was on that body,” Ken said.
"Robbie never asked for mercy and never tried to escape,” Scholley said. "His only concern was trying to keep the terrorists’ rage away from the other passengers.”
"Still today, it’s like it was yesterday,” said Stethem’s mother, Patricia.
It’s been three decades and it’s still raw for the family.
“It’s a constant reminder of him being gone to us. We’ll never forget,” his father, Richard, said.
On the naval destroyer that bears Stethem's name, the USS Stethem, Stethem's sister Shari hopes the next generation will learn about her little brother.
“Just so that the young people, the young sailors coming on will understand as they walk onto the ship, what it is they’re walking onto,” she said.
That message not lost at Word of Life Church in Springfield.
The church’s leaders are creating the Robbie Stethem Award, given to those in the community who show outstanding character. Those like Stethem.