A Troubled US Marine
Raffaele Minichiello was born in Melito Arpino, Italy, in 1949. Given the dire conditions of post-war Italy, he grew up in poverty until age 14, when his family emigrated to the United States, and settled in Seattle. While the family’s conditions improved in their new country, the teenaged Minichiello, who spoke little English, had a tough time. Picked on and taunted in high school because of his accent and poor grasp of the language, he grew taciturn, touchy, and ever so sensitive to slights – characteristics that would contribute significantly to the most dramatic act of his life.
In 1967, he left high school to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. During training in Camp Pendleton, his drill instructors were impressed by the casual speed with which he assembled and disassembled weapons and all things mechanical. Apparently, the one subject in which he shone at high school was the one subject that required little linguistic skill: working with his hands in shop class. He was shipped to Vietnam in late 1967, where he was wounded in action, before returning to Camp Pendleton with a Purple Heart.
Back in Pendleton, Minichiello came to believe that his unit’s paymaster had shorted him $200. His complaints went nowhere, and Minichiello, as touchy and sensitive to slights in the Marines as he had been back in high school, saw that as a great betrayal and an intolerable affront to his honor. So one night in May of 1969, he decided to extract his own form of justice. Guzzling eight cans of beer for liquid courage, Minichiello broke into the Post Exchange, where he took exactly $200 worth of wristwatches and radios.
Arrested and charged with burglary and theft, Minichiello was scheduled for a court martial. He saw that as yet another betrayal, and a further affront to his honor, to add to his growing list of grievances against the Marine Corps and America in general. Once again, he decided to take matters into his own hands, and escalate things by ditching the court martial, the Marines, and the United States. He would go back to Italy. However, instead of buying an airplane ticket, he decided to return to Italy in an epically dramatic way.
Minichiello’s court martial was scheduled for October 29th, 1969. On October 28th, he deserted, and headed to Los Angeles. There, he bought an M1 rifle and 250 rounds of ammunition, and a plane ticket on TWA Flight 85 – a Boeing 707 bound for San Francisco. A handsome hunk, Minichiello bypassed what little security existed in those days by flirting with some stewardesses, and charmed them into letting him board the plane early with them, via a secondary entrance. His carry on luggage included the disassembled rifle and ammunition. 15 minutes into the flight, Minichiello reassembled and loaded his rifle, and announced a hijacking.