Richard L. Queen, the Tehran hostage who was freed today for health reasons, once told his father he chose Iran for his first overseas post because he "thought it would be extremely exciting to go to a country in revolution."
Four months after going to the Iranian capital as U.S. vice-consul, Queen, 28, who "wanted to be a witness to history," found himself a main character in one of the world's major diplomatic crises, when the U.S. Embassy was seized and its personnel taken hostage.
Although government and hospital sources in Iran said Queen was suffering from unspecified psychiatric problems, no further details were immediately available on why the Washington native was released.
His father, Harold, a retired RCA executive now living in Maine, said that Queen was reported by the Red Cross in April to be in fine spirits and good health.
In a television interview last night, the father said the tone of April and May letters from his son was consistently high and indicated that his spirits were "very good" and his morale was "very high."
The elder Queen said the letters indicated that his son, whom he described as serious, straightforward and quite patriotic, was "taking the pressure quite well."
Queen, who grew up in New York's Westchester County and received a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in 1973, apparently chose the Foreign Service after poor eyesight prevented him from becoming a military officer.
Teachers and fellow students at the small college in Clinton, N.Y., where Queen was a history major, recall him as a bright, conscientious student who was quiet by nature, conservative by inclination and intrigued by playing military-oriented board games.
According to accounts, Queen received at least two summers of Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) instruction before being turned down by West Point.
Although poor vision cost him a chance at a military career, it did not prevent him from playing on his fraternity's intramural touch-football team, where in the words of a classmate, "he was the best lineman we had."
Foreign Service was apparently a natural choice for Queen, who grew up in a Scarsdale, N.Y., home constantly visited by guests from abroad. Many of the visitors were friends and acquaintances of his mother, Jeanne, who came to this country from Bulgaria and was the daughter of a Bulgarian diplomat.
Long interested in foreign affairs, Queen often sat on the lawn of his home with a family friends, solving "all the world's problems over a six-pack" of beer, the friend said.
After graduating from Hamilton, Queen attended Pace University in Westchester County for a year, then went to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he was enrolled initially in the business school.
Subsequently he transferred to the history department, earned a master's degree, and began work on a doctorate.
In October 1978, Queen left Michigan to join the Foreign Service here. He lived for a time in the Arlington Towers apartment complex, apparently while being trained in the Iranian language.
Queen, a bachelor, listed the Arlington Boulevard building as his permanent address on the alumni form he submitted to Hamilton College.
Last year, he sent in a correction. As of July 1, he wrote, his address would be "care of the U.S. Embassy, Tehran."
As vice consul, Queen's particular assignment was to issue student visas. Although this work might appear relatively routine, Queen's father, speaking in an interview earlier this year, emphasized his son's eagerness to go to Iran.
"He thought it would be extremely exciting to go to a country in revolution to see a revolution," the father said.
After years of studying history, his son "wanted to witness history . . . to witness an important moment," he said.
From the start, however, Queen felt himself frustrated as growing anti-American sentiment left him confined and isolated in Tehran and unable to travel about the country.
For Queen, who will be 29 years old Aug. 7, the restrictions on his mobility and freedom were only a foretaste of what was to come.
Letters home indicated some of the problems of the hostage. Alex Queen, 26, the hostage's brother, said in an interview with a New York newspaper chain that the first came before Christmas.
"You could tell he was really scared and didn't know if he would get shot," the brother said. A second letter, according to the brother, indicated exhaustion rather than anxiety.
"He wrote about the boredom and fatigue of being there and that it was getting to be routine and part of his daily life," the brother said. "The tension was way down and that terror and horror wasn't there."
In early April an uncle received a letter that also appeared to indicate improved conditions. Queen wrote of playing Ping-Pong and exercising on a stationary bicycle.
Queen's mother went to Europe in April to meet with government officials and to call on Europeans for a campaign of letters to the Iranian authorities.
She told the Associated Press in April that she saw her son on a nationally televised program at Easter and that he appeared in good condition. n
He also appeared heavily bearded, a surprise to friends and relatives.
Although the film seemed heavily edited, the mother said, Queen "looked all right, what I saw."
[The Rev. Darryl Rupiper, a member of the unofficial Iranian-American Crisis Resolution Committee who attended Easter Services at the U.S. Embassy, said Queen had organized the library for his fellow hostages and was being teased that "he only picked the books he liked," Reuters reported.]
Families of other hostages expressed mixed feelings yesterday about reports of Queen's possible release. "I hope it's true [that Queen will be released] and I'm overjoyed if it is," said Dorthea Morefield of San Diego, the wife of one hostage. But another captive's wife noted, "Nobody knows how seriously ill he is."