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Indiana Navy veteran held in 1985 hijacking dies at 61

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (left) congratulates Clinton Lee Suggs following an April 24 medal presentation where Suggs received the Prisoner of War Medal at the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Suggs was one of six Navy Seabees who were aboard a hijacked jetliner and subsequently taken hostage June 1985.

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL

By CHRISTIAN SHECKLER | South Bend Tribune, Ind. | Published: June 22, 2017

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — Clinton Suggs, an Elkhart native and former U.S. Navy diver who made news in 1985 after he was held captive and abused by terrorists who hijacked an airline flight, died earlier this month. He was 61.

Suggs was among several dozen passengers who were aboard the TWA flight from Athens to Rome in June 1985 when Islamic extremists hijacked the plane and flew it to Beirut, where they held the hostages for 17 days.

At the time, Suggs was a Navy deep sea diver who had been on assignment in Greece. Bob Stethem, another Navy diver and Suggs' roommate in Greece, was killed early in the ordeal. Suggs and other passengers were beaten.

According to an obituary, Suggs died at his South Bend home June 6.

Despite the hijacking ordeal, Suggs continued his 20-year career in the Navy before retiring with an honorable discharge around the year 2000, said his wife, Carla Suggs. She described him as a selfless man who gave his life to his country.

"He had already been hijacked, and he continued to serve our country," she said. "It's a remarkable thing that he did that -- not many people would have stayed."

He retired with the rank of master chief petty officer and earned several awards, including the prisoner of war commendation, according to his obituary.

The 1985 hijacking made international news at the time. After the crisis, accounts of the beatings Suggs endured appeared in major media outlets such as the New York Times.

At one point after his friend Stethem was killed, the Lebanese terrorists told Suggs he would be the next to die, his mother told the United Press International news service.

Suggs and Stethem had both been sent to Greece as part of an underwater construction team. They were bound for New York City, with a stop in Rome, at the time of the hijacking.

After retirement, Suggs worked for the city of Elkhart for about a year as a workplace safety coordinator. He then retired and spent time traveling or, as an electrician, working on small projects for family and friends, Carla Suggs said.

Suggs was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife said, and he had some trouble adjusting to civilian life. He sometimes had nightmares and was not eager to talk about the hijacking, though he occasionally discussed it during presentations to students or community groups.

"Can you imagine being hijacked, your best friend beaten and killed in front of you -- that's hard for a civilian person to imagine," Carla Suggs said, though she added that she would rather remember her husband for the fact that he kept serving.

"He was not boastful or full of self-pride," she said. "He was a genuinely kind, loving person who gave his life for his country."

The Disabled American Veterans post at 1205 Middleton Run Road in Elkhart will host a memorial service for Suggs at 5 p.m. June 30. Another service will be held at 2 p.m. July 23 at McNaughton Park in Elkhart.

©2017 South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)
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