Nick Charles: The Americans were taken hostage on November 4, 1979 when a group of militants took over the US Embassy in Tehran. They demanded the return of the exiled Shah who was hospitalized in New York City. United States came under increasing pressure during his stay in this country, to return the Shah of Iran for trial. Security was heavy during his hospital stay and everywhere he went. Later the Shah traveled to Panama and then Egypt where he died in a military hospital of Lymphatic Cancer. But even after the death of the Shah, the hostage crisis dragged on. The militants continued to demand the return of the Shah's assets and threatened to put the American hostages on trial as spies.
Correspondent Edwin Smith reports on the developments that kept the families of the hostages on pins and needles for the entire year.
Edwin Smith: 1980 began in Tehran with the failure of UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim's attempt to get the hostages released and his failure set the pattern for a year of frustration. By April American patience was exhausted and President Carter froze $8 million with Iranian assets in the US. Mrs. Barbara Tim managed one tearful visit to her hostage son Marine Sergeant Kevin Hermening in the Embassy and then only three days later the top secret US mission to rescue the captives had to be aborted when helicopters failed in the Iranian desert and a grim faced person Carter announced the deaths of eight servicemen.
The only bright spot came July 11, when the militants put hostage Richard Queen on a plane to Zürich and freedom because they could not treat the illness he had developed. Two weeks later the Shah died and robbed the militants of their main reason for holding hostages, but it was after the Iraqi bombing attack on Tehran September 22 that the Tehran regime finally decided it needed spare parts for its US built Phantom jets more than it needed 52 hostages.
On November 2, the Iranian parliament finally set forth formal conditions for the hostages' release and eight days later Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrived in Alger with the first US reply setting off a slow motion diplomatic shuffle between Washington, Alger and Tehran.
While this was going on US Charge d'affair Bruce Laingen was able to tell Radio Station KYO in Seattle in a rare phone call how much support from home meant for the hostages.
Bruce Laingen: One thing that has struck all of us I think through hostage crisis is the kind of support we've had from you all back there. This has meant a lot and I -- even though our colleagues, some of those -- 49 held in different circumstances but we must know it too in their hearts and I know we will be deeply grateful when they can appreciate that we have appreciated it.”
Edwin Smith: By early December the speaker of Iran's Parliament was calling the hostage crisis close to a solution. Hopeful words for the families who had been up and down the roller coaster of hope and despair so often during the long, long days of 1980. This is Edwin Smith reporting.