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West Point, N.Y. • 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 release on Jan. 20, 1981, 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 will 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 told The Associated Press. Rosen, 66, was the press attaché in Tehran when students stormed the U.S. Embassy.
The crisis began when Iranian students took dozens of hostages in 1979 after the U.S. 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, isolated and 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 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 academy 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, which ended in a helicopter crash that killed eight U.S. servicemen.
Thirty years on, 10 hostages have died and others are in poor health.