Robert Stethem was born in Waterbury, Conn., on Nov. 17, 1961, but grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and Waldorf. He is one of four children of Richard and Patricia. Robert attended the Charles County Career Vocational-Technical Center for the Industrial Electricity program and graduated from Thomas Stone High School in 1980, where he played defensive back on the varsity and junior varsity football teams. On May 4, 1981, Robert entered the U.S. Navy, continuing the long and proud naval service history of his family. Both his parents and brothers served in the Navy.
In the Navy, Petty Officer Stethem was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Sixty-two, homeported at Gullport, Miss., and assigned to Underwater Construction Team One at Little Creek, Va., on June 14, 1985. Stethem was returning from an assignment in Nea Makri, Greece in June 1985 aboard TWA Flight 847, headed to Beirut, Lebanon, when the aircraft was seized by members of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. They demanded the release of 766 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Robert was singled out because of his military status and was severely beaten and ultimately executed when terrorist demands were not met.
Stethem was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1985 and Bronze Star in 1986. On Aug. 24, 2010, 25 years after he was killed, Robert Dean Stethem was frocked to the honorary rank of master chief petty officer in a ceremony onboard USS Stethem in Yokosuka, Japan. He is buried in Section 59 of Arlington National Cemetery, near a number of other Americans who were victims of international terrorism.
USS Stethem (DDG 63) is the thirteenth Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer. Construction began on May 18, 1992, with the ship's keel being laid down at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries in Pascagoula, Miss. She was launched on June 17, 1994, and was christened Stethem on July 16, 1994, by Patricia L. Stethem, the mother of the ship's namesake, Steelworker Second Class (SW2) Robert Stethem. The vessel then transited the Panama Canal and was officially commissioned on Oct. 21, 1995, in Port Hueneme, Calif. On Feb. 15, 1996, the USS Stethem successfully completed her Post Delivery Test and Trials and was thus cleared for combat operations. She was assigned to her home port, San Diego.