In 1983, the United States joint the international coalition to impose a cease-fire in Lebanon, who was in the midst of an 8-year-old civil war. (1) In October of that year, the USS John F. Kennedy was diverted from her planned Indian Ocean deployment to Beirut, Lebanon, because of the Beirut bombing that killed 241 US military personnel. (2)
The USS John F. Kennedy spent the rest of the year and into 1984 patrolling the region after that attack. (2)
On December 3th, 1983, two US aircrafts were fired upon, and the next day, a bombing raid was planned over Beirut. (2)
Robert Goodman Jr., or Bobby Goodman, was an A-6 Intruder Bombardier Navigator and weapons officer, and was with pilot Mark Lange when their aircraft was hit by a missile. The aircraft crashed and Lange ejected himself and Goodman at the last minute, but Lange's parachute didn't deploy. He died shortly after his capture. (2)
Bobby Goodman was unconscious, having broken 3 ribs, a shoulder and knee. He was captured by Syrians and taken to Damascus, the capital of Syria, as a prisoner of war. (2)
Goodman was held captive for 30 days, his eventual release being organized by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who was running as a democratic candidate for the presidency in 1984. (2)
Bobby Goodman returned to the United States an American hero: A marching band at the airport, a trip to the White House to meet Ronald Reagan, and deemed a war hero in the media (1) - though he maintains he was doing nothing more than his job. (3)
ABOUT BOBBY GOODMAN
Bobby Goodman was the oldest son of Robert Goodman Sr., who was in the Air Force in 1952 back when racism was rampant throughout. Though the Air Force was integrated at the time, he said that it didn't stop race from affecting job ratings or promotions. The racism he experienced contributed heavily to the way Goodman was raised, and he is proud of what he was able to provide for his son. (3)
Goodman Sr. insisted his sons dressed nicely and never lose their cool in public, teaching them that taking the high road when someone else is filled with anger makes the other person look bad. (3)
In fact, Bobby's brother Tyron remembers when they had a gun pulled on them in a road-rage incident. He remembers his brother remaining calm and handling the situation likely exactly as their father would have taught. (3)
Beyond being well-dressed and cool under pressure, Goodman (or "Goody" as he was often nicknamed), played football, loved the Dallas Cowboys and loved cars. He met his wife Terry in high school. (3)
CHRISTMAS IN CAPTIVITY
Unconscious and with broken bones, Goodman was taken to the Syrian capital of Damascus and awoke in a dimly lit, carpeted room, with no idea of where Lange was or if he was okay. He later found out that he had died. (1)
He expected torture, reasoning with himself how long he thought he could last in captivity. However, he says he was only hit once and he was mostly just interrogated. He felt fairly comfortable, realizing that his captors were "playing by the rules". (1)
He was in a jail cell for 4 days, and then was relocated to a bedroom. He was able to wake up and sleep whenever he wanted. There were bars on the windows, but he was mostly left alone, which he claims was the most difficult part because he didn't have anything to do. (3)
While he wasn't threatened with death or injury, he was threatened more psychologically: They would tell him that they wouldn't tell anyone he was there, or tell him he was going home the following day, wait for him to get excited, and then tell him he wasn't. (3)
Things weren't all bad, though. Back in the U.S., Goodman's capture was national news and many media outlets were covering the story. On the Today Show, Willard Scott asked viewers to send him Christmas cards - and they did. (1)
Within a few days, the letters began coming, and the Syrian captors delivered them to his cell. (1) He received nearly 125,000 letters and Christmas cards from all across the country. (3)
Then, things got even better. On Christmas Eve 1983, the American ambassador arrived with a ham dinner and two beers.
Though Goodman's captivity was filled with more painless downtime, Christmas cards and beers than what one might expect, he was certainly still hoping to go home. On December 27th, he heard of Jesse Jackson's plan to come, but it wasn't until a few minutes before his release that he was told he was going to be free. (3)
When the Navy came to the Goodman house on December 4th, 1983, his wife thought they were coming because Bobby had unpaid parking tickets. But then she saw the captain and his wife, the head of the officers' wives club, and she realized something bad had happened. (3).
Like her husband, she had the ability to remain calm. She was upset, but didn't lose her cool. Throughout the next days and weeks, the wives club arranged food deliveries and phone calls to help her with anything she needed. (3)
To think about your loved one being captured in a war 6,000 miles away is horrifying. To think about being captured in a war 6,000 miles away seems traumatizing. But for Goodman, it didn't feel like he was "doing anything superhuman" (1).
After he came home, he went back to his career in the Navy. He retired. He owns a UPS and isn't woken up at night by the memories. (1).
He warns that his experience "can't be viewed in the same context as present-day Syria", but for his pairt, he doesn't think much about his time as a prisoner of war. (3)
Whether he was just doing his job and surviving as he sees the ordeal, or was an American hero worthy of loads of praise as the media saw it, the story of Bobby Goodman is one worth knowing.
A huge thank you to Gazette journalist Tom Roeder and Washington Post journalist Elisabeth Bluemiller who both had articles that were referenced in this article. If you're interested in learning more, give these a read!