Lloyd Waters: Guests of the Ayatollah, minus six

November 09, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

How is your memory working this morning? A little rusty, you say.

I want to take you back 33 years to 1979 and ask you to remember a few things. If you’re not old enough to recall back that far, some review of that era just might be worthwhile.

The year was 1979 and Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Cigarettes were still very popular; “M*A*S*H*,” “The Love Boat” and “The Waltons” were weekly shows on TV screens; and Donna Summer was tearing up the airwaves with her song hits of “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.”

You could buy a house for $58,000 and a gallon of gasoline for 90 cents; inflation was up and some states had implemented an odd/even auto tag system for rationing gas; and Pope John Paul II paid us a visit that same year and reminded us “not to overly embrace those material aspects of one’s life.”

On Nov. 4, 1979, another event occupied our TV screens as reports of the Iranian hostage crisis came front and center to the world stage.

After the U.S. allowed the Shah of Iran to enter this country for cancer treatments, the American Embassy in Iran was overrun by protesting students and more than 60 Americans were taken hostage.

The Shah’s inflicted pain and torture of the Iranian people had caught up with him.

As a result, he was overthrown, our embassy was seized and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power after a 15-year exile.

Khomeini initially released several African-American hostages in an attempt to forge a divide between blacks and whites in this country.

The remaining hostages remained under Iranian control for 444 days. An extravagant, but faulty, military plan (Operation Eagle Claw) to rescue these hostages ended in failure in the Iranian desert, where eight Americans died in a helicopter crash. 

Another six Americans, however, eluded the November siege by leaving the embassy and hiding out in the house of Ken Taylor, who was in Iran representing the government of Canada.

Although Mark Bowden’s book, “Guests of the Ayatollah,” provides an enticing view of the 444-day captivity of the hostages in Iran, he touches only briefly on those six individuals.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the movie “Argo,” which details the story of these six Americans who hid in Taylor’s house for 79 days.

It also depicts the actions and responsibilities of Antonio Mendez, who worked for the CIA during this event.

While Mark and Cora Lijek, Robert Anders, Lee Schatz, and Joe and Kathleen Stafford remained hidden guests, the CIA and Mendez were working on a scheme to rescue the six under the pretense that they were movie workers engaged in a film titled “Argo,” which was being shot in Iran.

1979 was a very trying year for President Carter. The Iranian hostage crisis was a serious concern for him. 

All of America hoped for a happy ending.

While watching this movie and the successful rescue of the six hostages who hid in Taylor’s house, I was reminded of those heroics that Americans will often demonstrate to save other Americans in harm’s way.

Tony Mendez is a person who jeopardized his own well-being and life to save others. “It’s the stuff that CIA people do,” he would tell you.

Throughout the movie and while reading Bowden’s book, you can often see and recognize those failures of our bureaucracy.

On the other hand, you can, appreciate the heroics of common people who rise above expectations to do something special.

Tony Mendez is one of those special people. He is a quiet hero who often goes unnoticed. He is someone who desires no thanks but feels inwardly proud of his achievements. 

All of America salutes you, Tony Mendez, and I’m glad you reside with us here in Washington County. Our kudos to you.

 Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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