Navy veteran who survived 1985 hijacking dies at 61

clinton suggs

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 PAO photo by Jim Dresbach)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A former U.S. Navy deep sea diver from northern Indiana who survived a 1985 airplane hijacking has died.

Palmer Funeral Homes confirmed 61-year-old Clinton Suggs died June 6 in his home in South Bend.

Suggs was one of dozens of passengers aboard TWA Flight 847 from Greece to Rome in 1985, which was hijacked by Islamic extremists. The plane was flown to Beirut, where passengers were held hostage and beaten for 17 days.

“First thing you think is denial… That this is not happening. This can’t be true. I’m going to wake up and this day’s going to start all over,” Suggs said in an interview with WNDU-TV more than 30 years ago.

Fellow Navy diver Robert Stethem was killed during the ordeal, and Suggs feared he would face a similar fate. But flight attendant Uli Derickson saved his life by stopping their attackers from beating him.

Suggs’ wife, Carla Suggs, said that despite the hijacking, her husband continued his 20-year Navy career before retiring with an honorable discharge in 2000. He had the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer and earned several awards, including the Prisoner of War Commendation and Sailor of the Year Commendations.

“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.”

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

The Disabled American Veterans post in Elkhart will hold a memorial service June 30. Another service will be held July 23 at Elkhart’s McNaughton Park.

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