Steelworkers of USS Stethem (DDG 63) and Seabees of Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1 gathered together to honor the 36th anniversary of the passing of American hero Robert Dean Stethem during a memorial ceremony held onboard the destroyer Naval Base San Diego, June 15.
USS Stethem is named after 2nd Class Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem and was commissioned on October 21, 1995, in Port Hueneme, California as the 13th Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. The ship’s namesake was assigned to Naval Construction Battalion Center (NMCB) 62 in Gulfport, Mississippi, as a steelworker third class. After several deployments to Guam and Diego Garcia, he attended Navy dive school, becoming a second class diver, and was subsequently assigned to Underwater Construction Team One (UCT 1), in Little Creek, Virginia.
Stethem was posthumously promoted to Steelworker Second Class and ultimately to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM) for making the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom as he laid down his life for the United States and his fellow Americans.
Stethem was returning home from overseas duty on June 14, 1985 when the plane he was on, TWA Flight 847, was hijacked by terrorists. Stethem was singled out as a U.S. Sailor and was beaten by the terrorists in an attempt to have their demands met. Robert Stethem would not aid the terrorists in meeting their demands by courageously refusing to cry out, which in turn cost him his life as he was shot and killed. USS Stethem continuously honors his sacrifice, adopting the motto “Steadfast and Courageous” to highlight the exceptional heroism he demonstrated.
The memorial started with steelworkers of USS Stethem visiting Naval Amphibious Base Coronado to explore ACB 1 headquarters and observe colors during a joint ceremony. In attendance at the ceremony were Stethem’s older brother, Ken and younger brother, Patrick, who both shared words of their brother’s sacrifice and legacy with the Seabees and Steelworkers in attendance.
After the somber remembrance, the morning continued with a flurry of friendly competition and camaraderie between the two commands as they both commemorated the legacy of Stethem. Steelworkers and seabees alike rallied around Stethem’s memory and competed in skill competitions and a BBQ cookoff to foster the special relationship between the two commands.
The day continued with the Seabees of ACB 1 visiting USS Stethem at Naval Base San Diego for the memorial ceremony which took place on the ship’s flight deck. Friends, family, steelworkers, and Seabees all gathered together to honor the legacy of Stethem and commemorate his exceptional courage and character.
During the ceremony, Fire Controlman Second Class John Charles Baldree spoke of Stethem’s legacy on behalf of the Second Class Petty Officers Association. “Robbie’s legacy remains true both on the deck plates and in the Sailors onboard USS Stethem,” said Baldree. “Aircraft carriers may be named after presidents, but destroyers are named after heroes.” At the time of the ship’s commissioning, Stethem’s father, Richard Stethem, said “carriers are named for presidents, battleships are named for states, and destroyers are named for heroes. Robert Dean Stethem is certainly that – an American hero.”
Cmdr. John Kajmowicz, commanding officer of USS Stethem, stressed the incredible importance of Stethem’s sacrifice and how his legacy and spirt are remembered every single day onboard. He shared his excitement at the prospect of returning the destroyer out to sea operationally and the importance of maintaining the unique relationship between the steelworker and Seabee communities.
Capt. Dan Cook, commanding officer Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, urged the steelworkers and Seabees to carry on Stethem’s compassion and fighting spirit, alluding to the Purple Heart and Bronze Star he received for his heroism. Cook called upon all Sailors to draw upon the example of bravery Stethem demonstrated as a testament to the importance of the warrior spirit.
The Seabees of ACB 1 ceremoniously gifted the steelworkers of USS Stethem a hand-crafted bible display case forged from the steel hull of the ship to hold the bible Stethem’s sister gave to him. They also presented Kajmowicz with a wooden plaque enshrined with steel numbers 63, honoring DDG 63 as Robbie’s destroyer. “This Bible display case is going to be in the commanding officer’s cabin for the next 20 years of this ship’s life,” said Kajmowicz.
“We honor our heroes by remembering them, by carrying on their legacy,” said Patrick Stethem. “I don’t think any other ship or any other command in the U.S. Navy other than the seabees and the USS Stethem does that as well as you all do.” He urged the ship the best of luck facing the challenges ahead and expressed his gratitude to the steelworkers for keeping Stethem’s spirit alive 36 years later.
“This is an opportunity to rededicate our purpose to our mission, to our Navy and to our nation,” said Ken Stethem, as he spoke of the significance and symbolism of his brother’s passing. He stressed the importance of character, faith, and unwavering courage in the face of extreme adversity, values which were flawlessly demonstrated by Robert Stethem.
The steelworkers of USS Stethem maintain a close relationship with the Stethem family and are committed to preserving the Stethem legacy of steadfast devotion and courageous service. His spirit lives on and can be observed daily in the steelworkers.
The memorial concluded with the lowering of the American flag to half-mast to honor the 36th anniversary of Robert Stethem’s passing.
USS Stethem is currently homeported in San Diego, California and assigned to Destroyer Squadron 21.