Navy Seabee Foundation

Robert Stethem Legacy Lives On for 31Years

Robert Stethem Legacy Lives On for 31 Years

By Patrick Stethem
SW2/DV, UCT1, CBU 402, 1985 – 1995
CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation Board of Trustees

Naval service is not just a Stethem family tradition, it’s a way of life. All but one member of my immediate family served in the U.S. Navy. My father, Richard, served for 26 years and retired as Senior Chief Petty Officer; he continued to work for the Navy as a civilian for another 20 years. My mother, Patricia, served in the Navy before leaving active duty to raise my sister, brothers and me. Later in life, she worked for The Court of Military Appeals, now known as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. My brother, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Kenneth Stethem served for 20 years and retired as a Navy SEAL.

As a young man, I contemplated how my obligation to serve in the Navy would take shape. It was my brother Rob who provided me with the advice and the example that would steer me toward one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: Be a Seabee Diver with the Underwater Construction Teams. I’m proud to have served as a First Class Diver in Underwater Construction Team One for 10 years.

Rob reported for duty in May of 1981 at the age of 19. Rob was a Steelworker with the Seabees, assigned to NMCB 62 in Gulfport, serving multiple tours on Diego Garcia and Guam. Rob became a 2nd Class Navy Diver and was assigned to Underwater Construction Team One at Little Creek in Norfolk, Virginia.

1. SW2/DV Robert Stethem

2. Rob preparing for a dive.

When enlisting in the Navy, or any branch of the military for that matter, every sailor/soldier takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The expectation is clearly set from day one that you may well encounter the enemy and that you must be prepared. But how could I have imagined that a member of my family would find themselves face to face with an enemy the way my brother did 31 years ago today? On June 14, 1985, Rob was aboard TWA Flight #847 returning from an assignment in Nea Makri, Greece with five of his teammates when members of the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, hijacked the flight. 39 passengers were held hostage for 17 days. Rob and his teammates were identified as United States military, and my brother, along with Clinton Suggs, was targeted and brutally beaten. Rob steadfastly refused to submit to the terrorists’ demands. His courage and willingness to absorb the rage of the hijackers, in selfless protection of his teammates and fellow passengers, would later be memorialized in a Congressional Record, “(He) offered his country as pure an example of courage as it could want.” Rob Stethem was 23 years old.

As I reflect on the 31st anniversary of Rob’s death, I am reminded that he exemplified the Seabee “Can Do” mantra until his very last breath. To honor my brother’s sacrifice and to recognize other notable Seabees, the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation established the Robert Dean Stethem Award. This honor is annually bestowed upon a CEC Officer or Seabee who, in the course of operations, exhibits outstanding moral courage or ingenuity in support of the traditions and legacy of the Seabees.

3. My parents receiving Rob’s posthumus POW medal from Secretary Mabus in 2015.

4. 2016 Stethem Award recipient BU1 Mark Wells (right) with his wife and Patrick Stethem (center).

I am proud of my Navy roots and to have served as a Seabee Diver. I am proud of my brother who paid the ultimate price in service to his country. I am grateful that Rob’s sacrifice has been remembered for 31 years and that his legacy of service will continue to inspire generations of Seabees for years to come.

Recent Events

  1. Thank you, Rob and the entire Stethem family for your service to our great nation, the United States of America!

  2. Rob may be may be gone but he is not forgotten. I am a US Navy Seabee also serving in June of 1968 to October 1970 serving 9 months in Vietnam with MCB 74 out of Gulf Port Mississippi. My family was also Navy, my mom my aunt myself my brother who also a Seabee with MCB 62 . Remember this we have the CAN DO attitude and once a Seabee always a Seabee. God Bless you and your family.

  3. We miss you Rob, each and every day! You will never be forgotten!

  4. Robbie was in my squad in NMCB-62. He was the best of us.

  5. To a brother SW2 Rob has inspired me and alot of other Steelerworker to the mantra Can do. To the Stethem family it is a honor to be in the smallest rate in the as Rob. Fair winds and following sea’s brother

  6. Miss you Robbie.Think about you all the time…Thank you Robbie for your unwavering bravery. You will never be forgotten. God bess you…RIP…Thank you Patrick for sharing this.I am so proud of Robbie and your whole family for their service and patriotic devotion to our country..

  7. I was stationed with Rob in both Diego Garcia and Guam,he was a hard working, friendly and respected guy.The fact he stood to protect others is no surprise, his memory will live on and his love for his home will never be forgotten.

  8. Served with Rob on Diego ,you couldn’t ask for a better person,

  9. I never met Rob even though we lived in the same state and were born in the same year. 32 years later I still think about him and his bravery. Although we never crossed paths, he is my brother. Best to his family, his memory lives on.

  10. It was I who made the patterns for his artwork that were cast in yellow brass for his memorial at the Divers Unit at Hickam Airforce base in 1999. It was a great honor doing the artwork work in his memory and I constantly held him in my thoughts the entire time I was doing the work and still do today. May God bless his soul for he gave his life for the sake of others.

  11. I am so happy to see this memorial for Rob. I was married to a fellow Seabee back in 1983 & were stationed with Rob in Pt Hueneme California. That is where I first met him. He came to our home & played charades regularly!! Rob was always smiling & fun to be around. I remember right where I was when I got the word that he & his fellow Seabees had been hijacked. I was good friends with Clint Suggs as well. I am so sorry you lost such a great presence to such a horrific crime. I am proud to have known him & was not surprised to learn he did not back down…he is a true American Hero. I thank you all for your service to our great country…for my freedom. May you always be blessed & find yourself smiling at your greatest memories of a wonderful young man!

  12. Did not know him but I always remember the day. I will continue to tell others about his sacrifice and bravery