Remembering the Iranian Takeover of the American Embassy 32 years Later

Rick Kupke

This is the 32nd Anniversary of the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. One of those hostages was Rick Kupke, of rural Francesville.  He and the other 51 hostages were held for 444 days.  Ted Hayes became closely connected to the story through an acquaintance with Rick’s mother Eleanor. He remembers that time today.

“Rick had gone to school in Rensselaer, and Eleanor was a teacher in the school system,” said Ted.  “I was there during that time period helping a friend put a radio station on the air. Helping with news, I of course became acquainted with Eleanor. Before it was over, I considered her a friend.”

“I saw the ups and downs she went through, as she waited for her 32-year-old son to come home. Little did she know, that he would mark his 33rd and 34th birthdays in Iran. On January 20th, the former embassy communications specialist was released, and came home to a huge parade.”

This is Rick’s story:

“On April 24th, 1980, the United States attempted a rescue attempt. Killed were eight American soldiers. After the attempt I was moved to a dungeon cell in a Tehran prison. I wouldn’t see daylight for seven months. In November of 1980, I learned through a guard that Ronald Reagan had defeated President Carter. We didn’t know it at the time but our long nightmare was on the verge of coming to an end,” Kupke said.

When the United States released $8 billion dollars in frozen Iranian assets, the stage was set for a deal. On January 20th, 1981, they were released, and came home. Kupke said at the time, “We’re not the heroes to this story, those eight Americans who lost their lives trying to free us are the real heroes.”

“Come home they did,” continued Ted. “There were huge parades. Rick Kupke stayed home for three months, amazed at the friendship his mother forged with entertainer Tony Orlando, whom she met during a performance at the Star Plaza in Merrillville. As Orlando’s guests the family visited Las Vegas and heard the singer dedicate his show to Kupke.”

“After a few months, he went back into the U.S. Foreign Services, and traveled again to assignments around the world. I have lost track of Rick, but believe he is retired and married to his high school sweetheart and living in Arlington, Texas. His mother, who I had the opportunity to make a friendship with, has since passed away,” added Ted.

“I would urge you to read more about the hostage crises of 1979. Those 50 men and two women are true American heroes.”

“Strapped to a chair after my surrender, I was beaten and finally knocked out with a hammer,” said Kupke.  “When I woke up, one of my captors held a pistol to my head. He and the others started playing Russian roulette with me. They spun the chamber and pulled the hammer back. Then there was the click as the trigger was pulled.”

“This game continued until a burly Iranian sat on me and pressed a knife under my eye, threatening to cut it out. That frightened me more than the Russian roulette.
I spent the next three days tied to a chair, listening to swelling crowds yell ‘Death to America’.”

“More time elapsed and I realized Americans weren’t coming to the rescue. We were shuttled around the country from cold floor to cold floor. I was moved 19 different times in captivity over 444 days.”

Associated Press photo.