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History and Heritage

Hold Fast - Part 3

Into the gut of Beirut

Clint Suggs, still blindfolded, was forced into a seat next to Tony Watson in coach. "Clint, are you okay?" Tony whispered. "Tony. They just shot Bob."

WARNING: Contains explicit language.

The hours slowly ticked past. Shock and fear were now replaced with a crushing sense of uncertainty. No one knew what would happen next. Between stops in Algeria and Beirut some passengers were hustled off the plane - mostly women and children. Clint Suggs, Tony Watson, Jeff Ingalls, Stu Dahl and Ken Bowen remained on board. The hijackers believed them all to be "Marines" or even possibly special forces of some type. They would no doubt make good bargaining chips.

The world watched as the plane idled on the Beirut runway. The access ramp at the back of coach was lowered. It was at this moment that a dozen heavily armed men stormed the plane. This must be a rescue operation, thought Tony. The passengers would soon be free - the nightmare over. The hijackers stood in the aisle as the militia filled the cabin. Hope of a rescue evaporated when Tony saw the hijackers and militia laughingly embrace each other.

The brothers were hustled off the plane. A row of armed thugs stood in a line across from them on the tarmac. Stu, believing they were all about to be executed nodded to his shipmates - he wanted to be brave for them, they all wanted to for each other. Then, inexplicably, the group was ordered into the back of a running truck.
Bobby was gone, and now Jeff was missing. The truck sped off and disappeared into downtown Beirut.

Back on the plane Jeff Ingalls could only clinch his teeth. The terrorists discovered they had no identification for him. They demanded to know exactly who he was - a spy? A diplomat? He was hustled off the plane with three others and shoved into a vehicle. He too disappeared into the gut of Beirut.

Every building carried the scars of combat - the brothers were now in the middle of a war. Tony, Stu, Ken and Clint were led into a basement. They would call this place home for the next 17 days. The guards immediately began to taunt them. They would randomly point their AK-47 machine guns at the brothers and pull the trigger. The ammunition clips disengaged - the bullets removed.

Click. Evil laughter.
Hold Fast pt.1 Link

Hold Fast pt.1 Link

Click here for part 1.

Across town in a similarly dank cell, Jeff tried to process what was happening. Survival mode kicked in. Tortured screams could be heard through the walls of this hell. "Remember me?" hissed the thug. The same gun used to kill Bobby was now pointed at Jeff. Digging deep, he held himself back. He could easily crush this dog's throat with his bare hands and not feel the least bit guilty doing it. They will not get a reaction out of me, he thought through clinched teeth. They didn't.
The war zone erupted in a hail of gunfire each night as the sun set. It was a routine the brothers refused to get used to. Staring down death day after day was taking a toll. Uncertainty was now replaced with a stubborn sense of defiance. The brothers' bond could not be shaken by these terrorists. No amount of pressure and threats could get them to crack. At one point, Stu was able to lock the door to their cell from the inside, and then watch as the captors grew furious.

They had to begin to think of options. Escape this hell on foot, navigate through downtown Beirut undetected, get to the beach and then somehow swim to Israel. Through a coded communication system undetected by the terrorists, the brothers began planning. It was at this moment that an interpreter entered and addressed them: the International Red Cross would be escorting them to a nearby school yard. They were to leave Beirut and return home. They would soon be free.

Jeff was trying to process the same message delivered to him. Turning a corner at some new location he had been driven too, he faced a wall of reporters. In clear English, one of them called out his name. This triggered a strong sense of hope - we might just make it out of this after all, he thought. It was all he could do to not break down. He was soon reunited with Stu and the others as they boarded a bus that would take them into Syria. They boarded a military flight and soon entered NATO air space. They allowed themselves to now believe it. They were free.

The families were waiting in Germany when the brothers arrived. It was a surreal scene at the airport - the crush of international press and even the vice president was on hand to greet them. The journey home was a blur of debriefings, interviews, happiness and sadness. The world welcomed the homecoming. For everyone else it was a happy ending - life could now go on.
The brothers went their separate ways. All remained on active service and eventually retired from the U.S. Navy. None made mention of who they were or what they had endured. They only ever spoke to each other about it. Their bond remained unbreakable.

Bobby was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. The Navy commissioned the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) in 1995. In 2010, aboard the ship that bears his name, Bobby was made an honorary Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM) by order of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

Hold Fast Pt. 2 Link

Hold Fast Pt. 2 Link

Click here for part 2.