I don’t suppose many of the young people of today would even remember the Iran Hostage Crisis, but I remember. It all started on November 6, 1979, when a group of militarized Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution, took over the US Embassy in Tehran. Inside the embassy were American diplomats and citizens, and their lives were about to be forever changed. The Western media called the crisis an “entanglement of vengeance and mutual incomprehension.” US President Jimmy Carter called the hostage-taking an act of “blackmail” and the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy.” Of course, the Iranians view it in a much different way, calling it an act against the US and its influence in Iran, including its perceived attempts to undermine the Iranian Revolution and its long-standing support of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979. The Shah left the US in December 1979 and was ultimately granted asylum in Egypt, where he died of cancer at age 60 on July 27, 1980.
The attack did not go as it was originally planned. The students had planned a “symbolic” occupation, aimed at getting their cause before the media. The, they planned to release statements to the press and leave when government security forces came to restore order. This was documented by the placards that said, “Don’t be afraid. We just want to sit in.” Then, the embassy guards brandished firearms, so the protesters retreated. As he left, one of the students told the Americans, “We don’t mean any harm.” When it became clear that the guards would not use deadly force and that a large, angry crowd had gathered outside the compound to cheer the occupiers and jeer the hostages, the plan drastically changed. Then, according to one embassy staff member, buses full of demonstrators began to appear outside the embassy. A short time later, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line broke through the gates. And so began the hostage crisis.
On January 27, 1980, six American diplomats who had managed to evade capture when all this began, were rescued by a joint CIA–Canadian effort. The crisis reached a climax in early 1980 after diplomatic negotiations failed to win the release of the hostages. President Jimmy Carter ordered the US military to attempt a rescue mission, which was called Operation Eagle Claw…using warships that included USS Nimitz and USS Coral Sea, which were patrolling the waters near Iran. That attempted rescue failed on April 24, 1980, and resulted in the death of one Iranian civilian and the accidental deaths of eight American servicemen after one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft. The failure resulted in the resignation of US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Then, Iraq invaded Iran, beginning the Iran–Iraq War on September 1980. At that point, the Iranian government reached out to the US government, with Algeria acting as a mediator.
The hostage-takers, declaring their solidarity with other “oppressed minorities” and declaring their respect for “the special place of women in Islam,” released one woman and two African Americans on November 19, 1979. Before the release, these hostages were required by their captors to hold a press conference in which Kathy Gross and William Quarles praised the revolution’s aims and goals. Four more women and six African Americans were released the following day. According to the then United States Ambassador to Lebanon, John Gunther Dean, the 13 hostages were released with the assistance of the Palestine Liberation Organization, after Yassir Arafat and Abu Jihad personally traveled to Tehran to secure a concession. The only African American hostage that was not released that month was Charles A Jones Jr. One more hostage, a white man named Richard Queen, was released in July 1980 after he became seriously ill. He was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The remaining 52 hostages were held until January 20, 1981, a full 444 days of captivity. The agreed upon release came with an agreement, on January 19, 1981, in which Iran released all of the hostages and the US freed 8 billion US dollars of Iranian State assets from American banks. Then on January 20, 1981, US president-elect Ronald Reagan takes the oath of office. Just 20 minutes after Reagan’s oath, Iran released all 52 hostages, who were then flown to West Germany, by way of Algeria where former US president Jimmy Carter takes them back to the United States. Some people saw the release in a bit of a conspiracy light, because of its closeness to the swearing in of President Reagan. I suppose we will never know for sure. Ten days after the release of the hostages a motorcycle parade takes place in New York City’s Broadway. Whatever the case may be, and no matter what kind of celebration was held in their honor, the lives of those hostages were forever changed. You can’t lose 444 days of your life and stay the same. Too much was forever missing. Things they could never get back.