Safe at Home
Friday, January 20, 2006
It was a small thing really, barely bigger than a credit card, tucked unpretentiously in a small black case. For each of the 52 American hostages who bounded off the plane, free at last, the ticket stuffed inside the box was another of the trinkets that piled up around them. A modest reward for the cold, metal muzzle of a shotgun pressed against their faces.
For 444 days they had been tied and blindfolded, held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran by student revolutionaries incensed at the United States' decision to admit Iran's ailing and deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, for medical treatment. Long before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq, there were the Iran hostages. Their plight paralyzed a country unaccustomed to such an affront and likely cost President Jimmy Carter reelection in 1980. Then, 25 years ago today, they were released the moment Ronald Reagan took the oath of office.
They returned to an adoring nation that gave them a ticker-tape parade and welcomed them as heroes. They were besieged with flags, yellow ribbons and countless gifts, among them the tiny box from Major League Baseball. Inside was a lifetime pass to any major or minor league game.
What each did with the pass says something about the group of 52 diplomats and military personnel. Some embraced it, using it often. Others tucked it away, rarely, if ever, pulling it out. The response was as varied as the ways they approached their notoriety and fame, back then and in the quarter-century that has passed, a quarter-century that has seen the number of living former hostages dwindle to 42.
Rocky Sickmann, a Marine guard from outside St. Louis, immediately put his in a safety deposit box. Bruce Laingen, the embassy's charge d'affaires, would later gush about the pass: "Not many people have that!" Steve Kirtley, another Marine guard who now lives in McLean, used it last June to take his two youngest sons to a Nationals game.
In the case of Barry Rosen, the embassy's press attache from New York, the little gold card helped to heal his family.
He stepped off the plane at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., on Jan. 25 gaunt, weary and a disheveled mess. He scanned the crowd and found his wife, Barbara, "looking as beautiful as ever." Beside her stood their son, Alexander, dressed in a suit and their little girl, Ariana, an infant when he had left more than two years before, in a red coat and a matching red dress.
"The movie should have ended right there," Rosen said with a laugh.
But the hero to America was a mystery to his family. Alexander, just 2 1/2 when Rosen left for Iran, had only vague recollections of his father; Ariana didn't know him at all. His return was an intrusion.
"My children were very fearful of me," Rosen recalled. "It wasn't that I was an ogre, they didn't know who the hell I was. They were with their mother all the time and then this strange man walked in the house. I couldn't take them out of the house. They wouldn't go anywhere with me."
Then the baseball pass arrived. Rosen grew up in Brooklyn a Dodgers fan and loved National League baseball. Maybe his kids would, too. "If it's a way of bringing us together, let's use it," he remembered Barbara saying.
Their first game, at Shea Stadium in New York, was so wonderful, he couldn't have drawn it better himself. The sky was clear, the sun sparkled on the grass. They arrived early to watch batting practice and then didn't want to leave.