Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Leon Klinghoffer

Leon Klinghoffer will probably always be best remembered for how he died rather than how he lived.  That's a shame, cause he had a rather interesting life.

He was born in New York City on September 24, 1916.  While he was in school, he worked in his family's hardware store, Klinghoffer Supply Company.  Later, when America entered the second World War, Klinghoffer enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he trained as a navigator.  He was attached to the 93rd Bombardment Group and flew missions in the B-24 Liberator bombers.  He was honorably discharged from the service in 1944.

The B-24 Liberator.
After he returned to America, Klinghoffer and his brother opened an appliance store in which they sold their own inventions.  Their signature item was the Roto-Broil Rotisserie Oven (Roto-Broil 400), which proved quite popular in the 1950s.  Yes, Klinghoffer and his brother invented the rotisserie oven.  He enjoyed a successful career for the next few decades.

By the 1980s, he had retired and was now confined to a wheelchair, but it didn't stop him from living his life.  In October 1985, Klinghoffer and his wife Marilyn celebrated 36 years of marriage with a cruise to Israel.  They booked passage on the cruise ship Achille Lauro, a name that would become synonymous with terrorism.

On October 7, the ship was seized by four terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front as it was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said.  The passengers and crew were held hostage and the captain was ordered to set sail for Syria.  The terrorists also demanded the release of 50 Palestinians confined in Israel.

Syria, along with both the U.S. and Italian governments, did not respond to any of their demands.  The terrorists decided at that point that it was time to start executing the prisoners.  They agreed that an American should die first, and Klinghoffer was chosen for a variety of reasons, one being that he was brusque and uncooperative with his captors.  But ultimately he was chosen for a more sinister reason.

The Achille Lauro.
A terrorist known as Molqi later recounted why Klinghoffer was chosen, giving this chilling statement.  "I and Bassm al-Ashker agreed that the first hostage to be killed had to be an American.  I chose Klinghoffer, an invalid, so that they would know that we had no pity for anyone, just as the Americans, arming Israel, do not take into consideration that Israel kills women and children of our people."

Molqi ordered one of the ship's waiters to bring Klinghoffer above deck.  There, the hijacker shot him in both the head and chest, killing Klinghoffer instantly.  The waiter was ordered to throw his body overboard, but, unable to do so on his own, Molqi recruited the ship's hairstylist to assist.

One week later, the Syrians recovered Klinghoffer's body and it was returned to the U.S.  More than 800 people attended his funeral at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City.  He was buried in Beth-David Cemetery in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

Inscription #1: Beloved and Devoted Father, Husband and Friend
Inscription #2: His Courage is Our Strength
Rest in peace, Mr. Klinghoffer.

  • Klinghoffer's grave is very difficult to find.  I've had more luck finding people who didn't even have headstones!  Once you enter the main gate, drive straight down until you reach the traffic circle as shown below.  Park your car, then walk down the first aisle after the circle on your left.  Klinghoffer's grave is in this general area.

  • As a child in New York, Klinghoffer was close friends with future Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby.  Kirby is often referred to as Stan Lee's un-credited partner, who helped create a variety of Marvel characters, including The Fantastic Four.

  • None of the hijackers' demands were met, and they were eventually granted safe passage to Tunisia.  President Reagan had other ideas however, and he ordered a U.S. fighter jet to intercept the getaway plane.  It was forced down in Italy, where a long extradition fight began. Ultimately, they were tried in Italy, but they were never convicted.  Italian authorities felt there was insufficient evidence to link them to the hijacking.

  • Just four days after his execution, Klinghoffer's wife Marilyn lost her battle with colon cancer.

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