A Captive Reflects on the Iran Hostage Crisis

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the end of the Iranian hostage crisis. On Jan. 20, 1981, 52 Americans were released after being held captive for more than a year. Retired Army Col. Chuck Scott tells Debbie Elliott about the long ordeal and the taste of freedom.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the end of Iranian hostage crisis. After 444 days of captivity, 52 American hostages were freed on January 20th 1981.

One of them is retired U.S. Army Colonel Chuck Scott. He joins us from his home in Jonesboro, Georgia. Hello, sir.

Mr. CHUCK Mr. SCOTT (Colonel, Retired, U.S. Army): Hi, Debbie. It's nice to be with you.

ELLIOTT: What were you doing at the U.S. Embassy back in 1979 when the Iranian students seized the building?

Mr. SCOTT: I was chief of the Defense Liaison Office, which was the office responsible for foreign military sales and military assistance to Iran.

ELLIOTT: What do you remember about that day?

Mr. SCOTT: It was not a good day. It was not something that was unexpected though, because the shah was in the United States for 13 days by then. And there had been a number of demonstrations outside the embassy, so we'd grown accustomed to that. But on that particular day, which was a Sunday if you recall, they didn't just come to demonstrate. They scaled the embassy walls and the rest is history, as we say.

ELLIOTT: Now, you and the other hostages were held for 444 days, I'm sure that people ask you often what was it like? What do you tell them?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, it depends. The first month was shear hell. I was tortured. And then after that I spent a lot of time in solitary. The food was lousy and there wasn't much of it. But, like in all situations, you adapt. And people -- I've had people tell me, gee, I couldn't have done what you did. And I say you never had the chance. If you had to do it, you'd do it.

But the more they did nasty things to me the more I was determined that I wouldn't cooperate with them in any way whatsoever. And I didn't. And I realized after about the first month or so that, hey, this thing could go on for a long period of time. So, I sort of dug my foxhole deeper symbolically, and decided I'd dig in for the long haul.

ELLIOTT: How do you do that? How do you mentally prepare yourself to live that way?

Mr. SCOTT: One thing that you do, Deborah, is you learn to control your thought process. I set aside one hour every afternoon when I would let myself wander through all of the terrible scenarios of how that thing was probably going to end up. And then I would dismiss it.

And once the torture was over and I was in solitary, even though I was shackled and in handcuffs much of the time, I set up an exercise program for myself so that I could develop a routine. And the other thing I did, I followed some of our examples of prisoners of war in Vietnam.

I tried to use my mind as much as I could. I derived the Quadratic Formula, I did. I tried to put all the kids in my classes all the way through elementary school, junior high and high school back into their seats.

I never had a dream while I was there about, gee, I can't wait to get home and get a bigger house, or a new car, or money in the bank. I thought of all the people that had helped me along the way that I never really thanked, or told them that I loved them and I cared about them. And I vowed that while I was in solitary if I ever got out of there alive I'd never let that happen again. And I haven't.

ELLIOTT: I wonder if you could paint a picture for us of that day 25 years ago when you and the other hostages were released? What was it like returning home?

Mr. SCOTT: We were on a bus at Mirbat Airport still blindfolded, still handcuffed, a lot of us. And they said, “Okay, you can take off your blindfolds,” and they went around unlocking handcuffs. And they said, “No. No talking.” Well, we just said to hell with them by that. And we were all hugging each other because we hadn't sent he other hostages.

And when we were wheels up from Tehran's Mirbat Airport, we still weren't out of the woods because the Iranians had a lot of surface-to-air missiles, including shoulder fired ones. And we thought Khomeni's enemies in the country might try to shoot the airplane down with some Algerian jet before we cleared the Iranian airspace.

And then when we got back to the states -- when we entered the United States territory, the pilot announced, and I'll probably get choked up when I say this. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you've just entered the United States airspace.” There was a roar in there that was a stadium roar. We were all just so tickled.

We landed at Stewart Air Force Base. And as we made that 15 mile run to West Point from there, they were lined 10-deep that whole 15 mile run. And we started to get a sense of, hey, maybe this did mean something to the American people.

And when you stop and think about it, we were the icons of a crisis. But this whole nation was held hostage. It was like no homecoming you've ever been to in your whole life.

ELLIOTT: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Chuck Scott, a former hostage in Iran. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SCOTT: My pleasure.

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