October 7, 2010, - 3:46 pm
On this 25th anniversary of the Palestinian Islamic terrorist hijacking of the Achille Lauro and murder of Jewish American Leon Klinghoffer, I thought you’d be interested to read a first-hand account by a then-member of the U.S. military who was on a different ship, following and monitoring the hijacking. The man, Michael Vaughn, gave me permission to publish his account and his name, since he is now retired from the U.S. Navy. It’s a very important historical account of an important event that, unfortunately, America has forgotten. I urge you to read it:
I was reading your column on the 20th anniversary of the Achille Lauro hijacking and death of Leon Klinghoffer. It is now just a few months from October 8th, and I see scant mention of it these days.
Why am I interested? It is a simple answer. I was a crew member on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga that kept tabs on the cruise ship and monitored the movements of the hijackers. It was an incredible 10 days, and I’ll never forget it.
I was part of a detail called the At Sea Rescue and Assistance Detail. We were composed of ship repair, boat handling, mechanical, intelligence, medical (I was a Navy corpsman and am now retired), and an officer picked to negotiate with the ship’s commanding officer. We’d go to daily briefings on the hangar bay and were more than prepared to board the ship if need be.
To begin with, our planes could not fly, especially at night. We could not risk detection as we feared harm would come to the crew and passengers. It was bad enough Leon Klinghoffer was killed as that event set us on edge even more and yes we knew about it before the rest of the world. It was probably the worse piece of information we could have received and were prepared for the worse.
The news that the Achille Lauro ported at Port Said swung us into high gear. We found out that the hijackers had boarded an Egypt Air flight and were headed for home. The White House immediately issued orders to us, and that resulted in F-14, E-2C and EA-6B aircraft to be launched to intercept the plane that carried the hijackers. They eventually forced the Egypt Air to land at NAS Sigonella where the hijackers were captured and held.
Unfortunately the Italian authorities made the whole thing a mockery. However, one of the nicer things that happened was we as the crew of the USS Saratoga became famous, more famous than we could have imagined. We pulled into more ports than we planned and had to refuse most interviews. We could not give any information, but imagine having more press than Madonna, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, Boy George or David Lee Roth. For a bunch of sailors and Marines just trying to do our jobs it got a little overwhelming, but interesting.
It took us another few months for us to finish our cruise as we were called to wage war on Khaddafi’s Libya. We got extended some three times for an additional two and half months at sea. Yes we were tired but it was worth it to see so much accomplished.
President Reagan gave us a congratulatory phone call and met with Klinghoffer’s widow. And when we returned to our home port for a delayed homecoming to a lot of press coverage and even more interviews by both national and international press.
I doubt the Achille Lauro will be mentioned this year for the 25th anniversary. Maybe Fox News will give a mention, but i guarantee that somehow Obama will do or say something.
During that time we were tailing the Achille Lauro, life was not what you could consider ‘normal’. We did not conduct flight ops, especially at night. For two weeks we could not dump trash and after awhile the passageways started to become a smelly mess. No one could leave the ship to go out on the flight deck at night, and every light on the outside of the ship was turned off.
I was a part of a detail called the at-sea rescue and assistance detail. My division had another man who was an E-3 on it. I was added because I was older, was an E-4 and had a secret security clearance, which was extremely important given the sensitive nature of the mission. If I remember correctly we had meetings every day on the hangar bay to discuss what in any information we needed to know. We had an electrician, hull repair, ordnance. communications, boatswain and I was the corpsman, along with a Lt. who was our leader. If anything sudden and dramatic would have happened, it was up to us to take action and restore order.
All I want is for the Klinghoffer family to somehow get some justice. It is my understanding that two or three of the Abbas gang are at large somewhere out there. Maybe they’re using the notoriety of the Achille Lauro hijacking for some self-promotion. Just wish some of these foreign governments had the gonads to pursue and destroy them.
No word from any media outlets on this, either. I saw some websites that mention the hijacking. One from Special Forces, one with a Palestinian slant and one from the Israeli side. Still a lot of info missing. Hope someday things get straight.
I did a little bit of online research and discovered that 3 have not been fully accounted for. Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi, Youssef Majed al-Molqi and Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif are out there somewhere. There have been some attempts of international criminal justice to punish them. But who knows? It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen.
To use Michael Vaughn’s words, I, too, just wish some of these foreign governments had the gonads to pursue and destroy the surviving hijackers. But as I noted earlier today and previously on this site, Italy released two of the hijacker/murderers to freedom. And America gives shelter to an Islamic terrorist connected with the Achille Lauro hijacking.
Yup, sadly, our will to fight the Islamic threat has been largely castrated.
Tags: "Exclusive", 25th Anniversary, Achille Lauro, Achille Lauro Hijacking, At Sea Rescue and Assistance Detail, hijacking, historical account, Islamic terrorists, Leon Klinghoffer, Michael Vaughn, Navy corpsman, Port Said, U.S. Navy, United States Navy, US Navy, USS Saratoga