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As the toll from terrorism mounts, some past targets remain etched in nation's memory
By DAVID CRARY The Associated Press 2/23/02 2:08 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Even after 17 years, the haunting images linger: The body of a slain Navy diver dumped on the Beirut tarmac from a hijacked plane; the pilot in his cockpit, a gun at his head.
Americans were targets of terrorism long before Sept. 11 and the recent slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
For several reasons -- his high-profile kidnapping, the barbarity of his execution, the wrenching photographs of him in captivity -- Pearl seems likely to become one of those who remain etched in America's collective memory.
Others have been forced into that role before, including two men who were aboard TWA Flight 847 when it was hijacked en route from Athens to Rome in June 1985.
The hijacking followed a series of suicide bombings killed more than 270 Americans in Lebanon in 1983-84.
For more than two weeks, 39 hostages were held aboard the plane at Beirut's airport by Hezbollah guerrillas. One televised image showed the pilot, Capt. John Testrake, leaning out the cockpit window with a hijacker's pistol at his head.
One day into the ordeal, after enduring brutal beatings by the hijackers, Navy diver Robert Stethem was pushed from the plane, a bullet in his head, and died on the tarmac.
Between beatings, the 23-year-old from Waldorf, Md., had told another hostage that, if anyone had to die, he hoped it would be him because his five Navy buddies on the flight were all married and he was not.
After the hijacking ended, Testrake, who died in 1996, flew relief missions, ran unsuccessfully for the Missouri legislature, and wrote a book about the ordeal. It contained a prophetic passage, describing Testrake's unfamiliarity with the Middle East.
"I was awakened from this typically American isolation by the black bore of an automatic pistol in my face and by the angry eyes behind it," he wrote. "I have discovered that our country is resented in this region."
By the end of 1985, Americans were all too familiar with the names and faces of other hostages -- victims of a wave of kidnappings that snared more than 100 foreigners in Lebanon during the 1980s.
Some eventually were freed, including the longest-held -- The Associated Press' chief Middle East correspondent, Terry Anderson. He was abducted on a Beirut street March 16, 1985, and released Dec. 4, 1991.
Anderson, 54, now raises horses and owns a blues club in Athens, Ohio. He collected $26.2 million from a lawsuit that held Iran responsible for his kidnapping.
Other American hostages were killed, including the CIA's station chief in Beirut, William Buckley, and Marine Col. William R. Higgins, who was serving with a United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
Buckley had devoted much of his work in Beirut to gathering intelligence on terrorists threatening Americans. His haggard face became familiar in January 1985, nine months after his abduction, when he appeared in a 56-second videotape released by his captors.
After a joint burial service for the two men at Arlington National Cemetery, Higgins' widow -- also a Marine officer -- urged Americans not to forgive the hostage takers.
"If we forgive, if we forget, if we thank these savages, then we are merely inviting them, at a time and place they will select, to kill again," she said. "Shame on us if we do."
Another memorable, innocent victim was Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old New Yorker shot by Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 8, 1985, during the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Klinghoffer's body, still seated in the wheelchair that he used, was thrown overboard into the Mediterranean.
His family called Klinghoffer a shy, modest man -- he had owned some wholesale appliance stores. In death, he became a hero; there even was an opera about him.
At a memorial service in Washington, cousin Sharon Hellman spoke hopefully -- but perhaps prematurely -- about her vision of Klinghoffer's legacy.
"Just as Anne Frank became the symbol of victory over the Nazis," Hellman said, "Leon Klinghoffer will become the symbol of victory over the terrorists."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), February 23, 2002