Iranian Hostages Released
West Point, NY - January 1981
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On January 20, 1981, Iran released 52 Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days minutes after the presidency had passed from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan.
The Iran Hostage Crisis had begun on Nov. 4, 1979, when a group of several hundred militant Islamic students broke into the United States embassy in Tehran and took its occupants hostage.
The students initially intended to hold the hostages for only a short time, but changed their plans when their act garnered widespread praise in Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the country’s supreme leader, was among the supporters.
The hostages were bound, blindfolded, kicked, taunted and isolated. The hostages endured an eyes-open nightmare. They were kept awake in dark rooms, moved from shadowy place to place, and subjected to mock executions.
Note: On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats evaded capture and remained in hiding at the home of Canadian diplomat John Sheardown, under the protection of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. In late 1979 the Canadian Government secretly issued an Order In Council allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the CIA who used the cover story of a film project, two CIA agents and the six American diplomats boarded a Swissair flight to Zurich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran has become known as the "Canadian Caper". The rescue was fictionalized in the 2012 film "Argo," but the movie included a number of non-historical elements.
In response, President Carter imposed economic sanctions on Iran. On 24 April 1980, he authorized a rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw, conducted by the U.S. military from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The mission failed badly, as two U.S. aircraft collided, killing eight military personnel.
President Carter continued to negotiate for the hostages’ release until the end of his term of office. Finally, on Jan. 19, 1981, Algerian-mediated talks between the U.S. and Iran produced an agreement to end the crisis with the transfer of $7.98 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
On January 20, 1981, at the moment Reagan completed his 20‑minute inaugural address after being sworn in as President, the 52 American hostages were released by Iran into U.S. custody
The hostages were flown to Algeria as a symbolic gesture for the help of that government in resolving the crisis. The flight continued to Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany and on to Wiesbaden USAF Hospital, where former President Carter, acting as emissary, received them. After medical check-ups and debriefings, they took a second flight to Stewart Army Airfield in Newburgh, New York, with a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland.
On 25 January 1981, the 52 hostages touched down at Stewart Airfield to be tearfully reunited with their families. Then came an exhilarating bus ride to West Point along a route lined with yellow ribbons and 75,000 cheering people, waving and chanting, "USA! USA!,” a route that would be renamed “Freedom Road.”
"Freedom Road" took the returning American hostages through the heart of the historic Hudson Valley. Freedom Road was actually a series of roads traveled by a caravan of buses that brought the hostages from Stewart Airport to West Point — their first trip after landing back on American soil. From the airport, they proceeded along Route 207 and Temple Hill Road in New Windsor — past the site of George Washington's army's last camp — over Route 32 and Quaker Avenue in Cornwall, Route 9W across Storm King Mountain, down Mountain Avenue into Highland Falls and up West Point Highway to the Thayer Hotel. It was an 18 miles trip that took two hours.
The former hostages stayed with their families at the Thayer Hotel at West Point for three days to relax, acclimate with their families and escape the 1,200 members of the media who chased their story.
Ten days after their release, the former hostages were given a ticker tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.
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ABC News Report From 11/11/1979
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