Harrowing Ordeal in Iran Has an Unexpected Benefit

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008

While thousands of baseball fans tried desperately to get tickets to the Nationals' season opener -- scouring the Internet, vying for company seats or resorting to scalpers outside the ballpark -- Elizabeth Montagne was able to rest easy.

A survivor of one of the United States' most dread-filled international incidents, the Iran hostage crisis, her game-day seat has been guaranteed since 1981, she said.

"They treat us very well," Montagne, 70, said last night from her seat about 20 rows up from third base. "Usually they give us very nice seats."

Montagne, who lives on Washington Circle in Northwest Washington, collided with world history in November 1979 while she was serving as secretary to the chief U.S. diplomat in Iran. Iranian students, enraged that the recently deposed shah of Iran had been accepted into the United States for medical treatment, overran the embassy in Tehran.

"I got there August 4th, and the takeover was November 4th," Montagne said.

She said the female hostages were separated from the men and tied up but were fed three meals a day and were allowed to read.

"When you're isolated, you don't really think anyone cares," she said. "And of course they're working furiously behind the scenes to get you out. . . . We just thought every day we would get killed."

Montagne was in a second group of hostages released during the first 17 days after the takeover. Fifty-two Americans were held for 444 days.

When the last hostages returned home in 1981, all received an unexpected gift: lifetime access to all Major League Baseball games.

"It was such a pleasant surprise," Montagne said. She carries a brass card that guarantees admission to her and a friend.

Because of her job, which often took her overseas during the heart of the baseball season, Montagne didn't make it to many games until after she retired in 2003.

She is making up for it. She went to a handful of games last season and attended the exhibition game at Nationals Park on Saturday night.

Yesterday, she arrived hours before game time to explore the grounds, even climbing to the top of the stadium to scope the view of the city's monuments.

"This is majestic, but my God -- vertigo!" she said as she gazed at the Capitol.

Now that she has the time, she plans to keep going to games. "I'm getting very enthusiastic about it," she said.

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