Achille Lauro hijacking ends The hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro reaches a dramatic climax when U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercept an Egyptian airliner attempting to fly the Palestinian hijackers to freedom and force the jet to land at a NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily. American and Italian troops surrounded the plane, and the terrorists were taken into Italian custody. On October 7, four heavily armed Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. Some 320 crewmembers and 80 passengers,were taken hostage. Hundreds of other passengers had disembarked the cruise ship earlier that day to visit Cairo and tour the Egyptian pyramids. Identifying themselves as members of the Palestine Liberation Front–a Palestinian splinter group–the gunmen demanded the release of 50 Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel. If their demands were not met, they threatened to blow up the ship and kill the 11 Americans on board. The next morning, they also threatened to kill the British passengers. The Achille Lauro traveled to the Syrian port of Tartus, where the terrorists demanded negotiations on October 8. Syria refused to permit the ship to anchor in its waters, which prompted more threats from the hijackers. That afternoon, they shot and killed Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old Jewish-American who was confined to a wheelchair as the result of a stroke. His body was then pushed overboard in the wheelchair. Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) condemned the hijacking, and PLO officials joined with Egyptian authorities in attempting to resolve the crisis. On the recommendation of the negotiators, the cruise ship traveled to Port Said. On October 9, the hijackers surrendered to Egyptian authorities and freed the hostages in exchange for a pledge of safe passage to an undisclosed destination. Ronald Reagan gave his final order approving the plan to intercept the aircraft, and at 5:30 p.m. EST, F-14 Tomcat fighters located the airliner 80 miles south of Crete. Without announcing themselves, the F-14s trailed the airliner as it sought and was denied permission to land at Tunis. After a request to land at the Athens airport was likewise refused, the F-14s turned on their lights and flew wing-to-wing with the airliner. The aircraft was ordered to land at a NATO air base in Sicily, and the pilot complied, touching down at 6:45 p.m. The hijackers were arrested soon after. Abbas and the other Palestinian were released, prompting criticism from the United States, which wanted to investigate their possible involvement in the hijacking. On July 10, 1986, an Italian court later convicted three of the terrorists and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 15 to 30 years. Three others, including Mohammed Abbas, were convicted in absentia for masterminding the hijacking and sentenced to life in prison. They received harsher penalties because, unlike the hijackers, who the court found were acting for “patriotic motives,” Abbas and the others conceived the hijacking as a “selfish political act” designed “to weaken the leadership of Yasir Arafat.” The fourth hijacker was a minor who was tried and convicted separately. 1877 Custer’s funeral is held at West Point On this day in 1877, the U.S. Army holds a West Point funeral with full military honors for Lieutenant-ColonelGeorge Armstrong Custer. Killed the previous year in Montana by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Custer’s body had been returned to the East for burial on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where Custer had graduated in 1861-at the bottom of his class. Even before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Custer had won national fame as a bold-and some said foolhardy-Civil War commander who eventually became the youngest major general in the U.S. Army. A handsome man, famous for his long blond hair (though he cut it short while in the field), Custer, even after the Civil War, continued to attract the appreciative attention of newspapers and the nation as a lieutenant colonel in the 7th Cavalry, a unit recently created to fight in the western Indian wars. Reports that Custer treated deserters of the 7th with unnecessary cruelty and overworked his soldiers led to a court-martial and conviction in 1867. But Custer redeemed himself, at least in the eyes of some, with his subsequent attack on a winter camp of Cheyenne in on the Washita River. Others, though, faulted Custer for attacking a peaceful band of Cheyenne and leaving behind some of his men when he withdrew from the battle under cover of night. Though Custer was controversial in his day, his spectacular death at the Little Big Horn transformed him into a beloved martyr in the eyes of many Americans, especially those who were calling for wholesale war against the Indians. Some newspapers began to refer to Custer as the “American Murat,” a reference to a famous martyr of the French Revolution, and they called for decisive retaliation against the “treacherous Indians” who had murdered the golden-haired general. Others refused to believe that Custer’s own tactical mistakes could alone explain the disaster at Little Big Horn, and they instead sought to place the blame on the shoulders of other commanders who had been at the battle. (Tellingly, no one suggested that clever tactics and leadership by the Indians might have been the cause for Custer’s defeat.) Custer’s widow, Elizabeth, also worked to transform her husband into a legend by writing several adulatory books chronicling his career. Hundreds of other books and movies, many of them more fiction than history, helped cement the image of Custer as the great fallen leader of the Indian wars in many American minds. Custer’s status as a national hero and martyr only began to be seriously questioned in the 1960s, and since then he has often been portrayed as a vain and glory-seeking man whose own ineptitude was all the explanation needed for the massacre at Little Big Horn. The truth about George Custer is probably somewhere in between these two extremes.