Ralph Minichiello



It was 1963 when Raffaele Minichiello and his family emigrated from Melito Irpino to the United States. Raffaele is an illiterate boy who speaks only dialect, and that makes it almost impossible for him to integrate into American society. He has only one prospect: join the Marines and the war in Vietnam. After thirteen months in the trenches, Minichiello is decorated with a medal of valor and gets sent back to the US. However, he soon discovers that the population strongly resents the veterans.

He endures as long as he can, until the state denies to pay him the 200$ of back payment and his request to be transferred to Italy. Instead, he receives racist insults and gets treated like a beggar. Raffaele decides to seek revenge for the wrongs suffered. One night, he breaks down the door of the barracks’ shop, stealing food and booze as “compensation”; an intemperance that will cost him the court martial. But Raffaele refuses to attend the trial: he only wants to go home. So he buys a ticket to New York and shows up at the airport. He carries weapons that he manages to introduce from a secondary entrance with the help of some cleaning girls in exchange for kisses and caresses. Once on the plane, with 15 minutes left to take off, he takes out his rifle, forces elderlies, children and women off the aircraft and takes the pilot and two hostesses, Charlene Del Monico and Tracey Coleman, as hostages. Both women are immediately captivated by his charm, so one protests. Everyone cooperates in a cheerful manner, as if this was just a little weekend getaway. Raffaele “Ralph” Minichiello has just initiated life to the first and longest aircraft hijacking in history. He wants to land in Rome. Once at Fiumicino, the hijacker declares that he intends to use an important police officer as a human shield. Detective Pietro Gulì, with his hands raised and without a jacket, climbs the ladder and obeys orders. After some affectionate greetings with the hostages, Minichiello and Gulì board a Giulietta with a new destination: «Napule». While traveling through the Ardeatina, Raffaele orders the assistant superintendent to stop, then gets off and runs away into the countryside. His photos and the story of the hijacking end up on the front pages of international newspapers, and a priest, in charge of a small church, recognizes him. Minichiello gives into arrest without resisting and, surrounded by journalists and cameras, pronounces a very Italian “n’agg fatt nient”. He is charged with international arms trafficking, but his gesture is interpreted as an act of protest against the Vietnam war and, surprisingly to everybody including himself, Raffaele becomes a symbol. Sent back to trial on April 6, 1970, he is sentenced to seven years of imprisonment; despite the countless efforts of the US to get him back, extradition is never granted.

He is released on good behavior after serving only a year and a half. After his jail time, he finds Faith and today he is a free citizen who inspired Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character Rambo.


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