Former Iranian Hostages Reunite at West Point
(January 26, 2011)
|WEST POINT, N.Y., Jan. 21, 2011 – Thirty years ago, the U.S. Military
Academy served as a historic waypoint when the nation cheered the return
of a group of American citizens taken hostage from the U.S. embassy in
The West Point community took part in that celebration on Jan. 25, 1981,
welcoming home the 52 hostages who enjoyed a few days of respite with their
families on the installation at the Thayer Hotel.
West Point welcomed
them back yesterday, as 15 former hostages, five rescue personnel and family
members returned for a three-day reunion and to share their experiences with the
Corps of Cadets and faculty.
Re-creating their convoy through Highland
Falls into West Point, they were met by thousands of cheering cadets who lined
Thayer Walkway, applauding and shaking hands with the returning guests of honor.
Army Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, dean of the academic board, said the
William "Bill" Gallegos, former U.S. Marine Corps guard,
waves to with cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Jan 21,
2011, during the observation of the 30th anniversary of the Iranian hostage
crisis of 1979-1980. West Point was the site of their original homecoming in
January, 1981. U.S. Army photo by Tommy Gilligan
reunion was particularly poignant for him, having been witness to the original
“It's an especially personal welcome for me, because lost in the sea of
cadets that lined that cordon when you came through 30 years ago was
Cadet Trainor,” he told the reunion participants. “And there's another
Cadet Trainor here today, my daughter [Cory], who just experienced the
cordon coming through this morning. So there's a personal thread for me
Trainor said the former hostages, participants in the
ill-fated 1980 rescue mission that was derailed by an aircraft collision
at a desert staging area, and family members all serve as examples of
extraordinary service to America.
“Your insight into the events
that unfolded 30 years ago today are invaluable,” Trainor, a Class of
1983 graduate, said. “Invaluable in the fact that you were on the front
line confronting religious, ethnic and political extremism, and an
ideology of which many Americans were unaware, or to which we were
certainly unaccustomed to at the time. It's an ideology that does not go
unnoticed today at a time when America is at war on many fronts in a
time of volatile, uncertain conflicts.”
Like Trainor, Army Col.
Mike Meese, a Class of 1981 graduate, stood roadside three decades
earlier to witness the arrival of the hostages to West Point. The former
social sciences major, now head of the academy's social sciences
department, recalled reading about the embassy takeover in the
newspaper. That morning, his national security class's instructor was
absent because the Army officer was recalled to the National Security
Council in Washington, D.C., to assist the administration with the
Cheering the hostages through the gates at West Point and
later sharing a meal with them was a momentous occasion, Meese said.
“They served with honor and the values that we are teaching cadets
every day, ... and I learned a lot just from seeing the example of these
52 great Americans who came to West Point 30 years ago,” he said.
The reunion attendees had another chance to relive history when they
returned to the Cadet Mess Hall, an event that three decades earlier
Trainor described as a joyous event for the 4,400-plus cadets. Another
generation of cadets made the experience just as memorable the second
“It was truly exceptional to have the hostages back at West
Point for the 30 year commemoration of their release from terror and
return to freedom,” Cadet Tom Witkowski, Class of 2011, said. “I was
overwhelmingly awestruck by the valor and resolve that each hostage and
their families embodied to endure such a terrible situation. Eating
lunch in the Mess Hall gave me a unique opportunity to meet these brave
and courageous people who embraced unbelievable valor and strength. To
me, they truly represent what it means to be an American.”
Bruce Laingen, a Navy veteran of World War II, chuckled at the bottle of
water in his hand, which bore, as most things at West Point do, the “Go
Army, Beat Navy” slogan. Laingen, who served as the Iranian foreign
ministry office's charg� d'affaires during the siege on the embassy,
joined a panel discussion on Iranian-U.S. relations, with two fellow
former captives -- Barry Rosen, former press secretary, and former
senior political officer Victor Tomseth -- plus Wade Ishimoto, a member
of the rescue team.
Other panels focused on the embassy takeover
and crisis resolution, the hostage rescue mission and the 1972-79
Iranian revolutionary crisis.
The panels provided a wealth of
insight, some levity and moments when tears simply couldn't be
Paul Needham, an Air Force captain working in the
embassy on temporary assignment, was in the security vault at the time
of the takeover, destroying sensitive materials before surrendering.
Standing twice before a firing squad — a scare tactic used by his
captors, though none were shot — Needham said, he learned the value of
inner strength, which steeled his resolve through the 15-month ordeal.
He found the America he returned to was much different from the one he
left, he added.
“I left here in 1979 as a captain. People did not
go to work in the Pentagon wearing their uniform; we were coming out of
Vietnam and people were not proud to be Americans,” Needham recalled. “I
came back here and the streets were lined with people [waiting] to see
us. I still get choked up. It was extremely emotional coming here to
It was supposed to be a yearlong volunteer
assignment for retired Air Force Col. David Roeder, one of the more
senior military officers captured. Roeder said he spent a lot of time in
solitary confinement, but was able to communicate for a couple of months
with fellow captive Bill Daugherty in the adjoining cell without getting
caught by the guards. Daugherty said it became an exercise in the
leadership of one.
“The leadership of one can be very difficult,”
he said. “This can be just as difficult as leading a platoon or company,
because you're your own worst critic.”
Daugherty said he lived by
two standards: to protect classified information and to do nothing that
would harm another hostage. He also practiced intelligence gathering.
“I wanted to find out as much as I could about these guys, why they
were doing it. ... I tried to remember every single thing, every single
face, every single conversation,” Daugherty said.
Barbara Rosen, an
elementary schoolteacher, wife, mother and homemaker, first heard of her
husband's capture when she was awakened by a phone call from her
mother-in-law. She was quickly thrust into a situation she was never
trained or prepared to handle.
“I had to figure out how to go
about dealing with all the problems that were now placed before me,” she
During the first few months of her husband's captivity,
Barbara said, she spent a lot of time sleeping to pass the time. She
later found solace in advocacy work and giving media interviews. Thirty
years later, she still has a vivid memory of coming to West Point on the
“The roads were totally lined with Americans;
there was a dog with an American flag tied around its neck,” she
recalled. “Men and women who were former hippies protesting the Vietnam
War for years were out there waving American flags.”
She told the
cadets attending the panel discussion that while she was seeing
everything at the time, she wasn't able to truly feel it. Today, she
said, she had a second chance.
“This morning, when all of you
were out there welcoming us to West Point, ... when you re-enacted it for
us today, those feelings were so strong it brought tears to my eyes,”
she said, “and it did so for many of the others being welcomed.”
By Mike Strasser
U.S. Military Academy
American Forces Press Service
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