Former Iranian hostage Barry Rosen touched down on an American tarmac 30 years ago and spilled into the arms of a wife and two young children lost to him during 444 days of captivity. Then came the exhilarating bus ride to West Point along a route lined with yellow ribbons and thousands of cheering people, waving and chanting, "USA! USA!"
Three decades after the famous Jan. 20, 1981, release back to a country that had been on the edge of its seat since the crisis began, Rosen will be among the former hostages returning to the site of their emotional homecoming during a reunion hosted by the U.S. Military Academy. It'll be a chance to catch up with friends who share an intimate and harrowing bond -- and to speak to cadets who had yet to be born.
"I don't want to get maudlin about this, but 30 years is a long time, and we're getting older as a group," Rosen said.
The crisis began when Iranian students took dozens of hostages in 1979 after the United States refused to deport the deposed shah, who was in the United States for cancer treatment. Fifty-two of the hostages endured 444 days of captivity. They were bound, blindfolded, kicked, taunted and isolated. They endured mock executions.
The sudden announcement of the hostages' release came as Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new president in 1981, denying Jimmy Carter an accomplishment he had been seeking for more than 14 months.
The former hostages stopped at an Air Force base in what was then West Germany before being flown to Newburgh, N.Y., for tearful reunions with loved ones. At the base in Germany, hostage David Roeder was photographed as he exited the plane, arms thrust skyward, defiant jubilation on his face. Next to him, a sign read: "WELCOME BACK TO FREEDOM."
At least 10 former hostages, including Roeder, have accepted invitations from Thayer Hotel on the West Point grounds and will arrive starting Jan. 20 for several days of events mixing pleasure and public service. Also invited to the private event were veterans of the ill-fated military rescue mission that ended in a helicopter refueling accident that killed eight U.S. servicemen.
Thirty years on, 10 former hostages have died, and others are in poor health. Most are of retirement age.
The former hostages coming to the storied academy on the Hudson River will catch up with one another and talk to cadets about Iran and their experiences. They'll tour the grounds, eat at the cathedrallike mess hall and take in an Army-Navy basketball game.
On their arrival at Newburgh's Stewart International Airport, former Marine Sgt. Kevin Hermening was met by his folks, who told him that people had been praying for him back home in Wisconsin. Rosen gave a toy Mercedes-Benz police car he got in Germany to his 4-year-old son, Alexander, and a doll to 1-year-old daughter Ariana, who did not know or trust her long-gone father. "She took that doll from me and she never gave me a kiss," he said.
Rosen, a grandfather married for almost 39 years, is executive director of public affairs at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He long ago gained his daughter's trust.
One thing has not changed, though. "Iran will always be with me," Rosen said. "All the time."