Know Your Military

40 Years After Hostage Crisis, Iran Remains Hotbed of Terrorism

Nov. 4, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez

Forty years ago today, a crowd of college students broke into the housing complex at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took 66 Americans hostage, including 26 service members.

Some of the hostages were released two weeks later, but the majority — 52 in all — were held for 444 days. They were released on Jan. 20, 1981.

A group of people stand outside an airplane as people deboard.
Hostage Homecoming
Recently freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark from an Air Force VC-137 aircraft upon arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Jan. 27, 1981.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 810127-D-ZZ999-101Y

As part of U.S. efforts to free the hostages, eight U.S. service members were killed during a failed military operation called Operation Eagle Claw.

The White House says the political climate in Iran hasn't changed much since then.

The Iranian regime has a choice. Instead of being the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, it can put the Iranian people first."
Statement from the White House press secretary

"The Iranian regime continues to target innocent civilians for use as pawns in its failed foreign relations," according to a statement from the White House press secretary. "Until Iran changes this and its other hostile behavior, we will continue to impose crippling sanctions.

"The Iranian regime has a choice," the statement continues. "Instead of being the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, it can put the Iranian people first. It can choose peace over hostage taking, assassinations, sabotage, maritime hijacking and attacks on global oil markets. The United States seeks peace, and we support the Iranian people. It is time for the Iranian regime to do the same."

Men raise fists in protest.
Iranian Students
Iranian students display anti-American behavior, Nov. 6, 1979, near the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, where staffers were still being held hostage.
Photo By: State Department
VIRIN: 791106-O-ZZ999-001

On Friday, the State Department released a statement saying the department looks forward to a day when the United States can safely send diplomats to Iran.

"It's unfortunate that this anniversary serves as a reminder of the long history of malign behavior by the Iranian regime and the danger it has posed to the United States and the world over the past 40 years. The United States government continues to call on the Iranian regime to release all missing and currently detained U.S. citizens, including Robert Levinson, Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang and others."

Among those killed on April 25, 1980 as part of Operation Eagle Claw were three Marines: Sgt. John D. Harvey, 21, of Roanoke, Virginia; Cpl. George N. Holmes, Jr., 22, of Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and Staff Sgt. Dewey L. Johnson, 32, of Jacksonville, North Carolina. 

Five service members from the Air Force were also killed in the rescue attempt. These service members include Capt. Richard L. Bakke, 34, of Long Beach, California; Capt. Harold L. Lewis, 35, of Mansfield, Connecticut; Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, 34, of Bonifay, Florida; Capt. Lynn D. McIntosh, 33, of Valdosta, Georgia; and Capt. Charles T. McMillan II, 28, of Corryton, Tennessee.

Men pose for photo in front of plane. Circles identify five men who were killed in an accident.
Special Operations Squadron
The members of the 8th Special Operations Squadron who died in a fatal accident during Operation Eagle Claw were (encircled in red, from left to right) Capt. Richard Bakke, Tech. Sgt. Joel Mayo, Capt. Lyn McIntosh, Capt. Hal Lewis and Capt. Charles McMillan. Photo is undated.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 070420-F-0000S-015C