Jan. 21, 1981: Hostage no more; freedom ‘fantastic’
WIESBADEN, West Germany (UPI) — Fifty-two Americans who left Iran as hostages to the “Down with America” jeers of Islamic Revolutionary Guards arrived as heroes today to the cheers of delirious countrymen waving the Stars and Stripes.
“Welcome home!” shouted the crowd of 2,000 at the giant U.S. Rhein-Main air base. “God bless you!”
“We didn’t forget you,” said one banner in greeting for the Americans liberated after 444 days in captivity. Another sign draped on the airport arrivals’ building summed it up with a playing card term: “Full Deck — 52.”
And still another proclaimed: “Welcome Home to Freedom.”
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” one of the released hostages said as he got off the plane in West Germany. “Much better than the past 15 months.”
“God bless America,” another hostage shouted in the previous stop in Algeria.
Kathryn Koob, 43, one of the two women held by Iranian militants after their takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran Nov. 4, 1979, said she would never forget the Americans who reached out to the hostages during the agonizing days and months.
“One thing I’d like to say right now,” she said, her voice breaking, “is, you can never imagine how much the letters and prayers and support meant to me. We weren’t able to write or communicate with you. Only the Lord knows how much it helped. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The hostages, now officially designated “returnees,” spent their first night of freedom in Wiesbaden Air Force Hospital, about 25 miles from the Rhein-Main base. As the facility, they talked to their kin by phone.
Outside the hospital, an American junior high school band tootled “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” but no one could hear it in the din of shouts, whistles and cries of “Welcome home” and “God bless you.”
Twelve hours and nine minutes earlier, the two women and 50 male hostages flew out of Iran to the taunts of Islamic Revolutionary Guards, who chanted “Down with America” and “Down with Reagan.”
Their flight to freedom spanned 4,055 miles and touched three continents. The first stop was at Athens for refueling. But even there, the freed hostages were not in the custody of U.S. officials, who had fought for 14 1/2 months through diplomatic channels and even a failed military rescue raid to secure their release.
In Algiers — fittingly the capital of the go-between broker Algeria, which made the hostage release possible — the Americans were formally transferred into U.S. hands. In below-freezing temperatures of 21 degrees and a fine mist, the first USAF C-9 hospital plane rolled up a floodlit tarmac to a 12-man Air Force guard of honor. The second plane was only moments behind.
“I am deliver your citizens to you,” Algerian Foreign Minister Mohamed Benyahia told Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
This continues the Appeal’s review of news stories and headlines during its Sesquicentennial year.
Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.
Sign in to comment