When a group of masked Iranians armed with automatic rifles shoved some Americans into a basement room at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran last February and ordered their captives to lie down, one hostage refused.
"You're going to shoot me standing up -- not lying down," Navy Cmdr. Don A. Sharer of Chesapeake, Va., told the Iranians, according to former hostage Richard Queen.
No shots were fired. It was a cruel charade -- heightened by what Queen said during a television interview with CBS News Tuesday night was the chilling, metallic clicks of the captor's weapons.
And it was a moment of courage for Sharer, 40, a Navy flier and Vietnam combat veteran whose military career has been built on risk and pride.
"I had no doubts that if they [the Iranians] put the heat on him that he'd come back on them. No doubt in my mind," said Capt. Samuel C. Flynn, who was Sharer's commanding officer at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
It is "very, very typical of Don," Sharer's wife, Fran, said when she was told of Queen's story about that night in Tehran.
"He is very, very dedicated to his job and his country and always has been," Mrs. Sharer said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Sharer telephoned the family home at 2:30 a.m. yesterday from West Germany, where he and 51 other Americans are recuperating after 444 days as hostages. He sounded "great, super," Mrs. Sharer said. He talked to his son Jeffrey, 15, about sports and he asked his daughter Jennifer, 10, about the ribbons she had won horseback riding. He said nothing, Mrs. Sharer said, about the way he had been treated during those long 14 1/2 months.
For all that time, Fran Sharer, 40, a high school English teacher, has steadfastly turned away the constant pleas from reporters seeking interviews. She had remembered, she said yesterday, her husband's words when he left for Vietnam in 1965.
If he was ever taken prisoner, she said, she was not to talk to "anyone about anything."
And so she didn't until she knew for sure that his homecoming was near.
"We have had the easy part, the sitting and waiting," Mrs. Sharer said.
Meanwhile, Capt. Flynn took care of the Sharer family's needs. When Jeff hurt his knee playing football, Flynn saw to it that he got an appointment at the Navy medical center. He kept the family's commissary identification cards up to date. And he has made the travel arrangements for Mrs. Sharer's long-awaited reunion with her husband of 17 years when he returns to the United States. She said she has no plans now to fly to West Germany to see him there.
It was Flynn who dispatched Sharer to Tehran in March 1979 to train employes of the Iran revolutionary government to operate the F14 fighter planes that had been purchased from the United States. Sharer had ferried those aircraft to Iran before, Flynn said. Sharer was selected for a tour of duty there, as technical adviser to the Iranians, because he had had no dealings with the deposed government of the shah, according to Flynn.
Sharer flew 238 missions in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 on Phantom F4 fighter planes as a radar intercept officer, Flynn said. Sharer managed the radar and, along with the aircraft pilot, worked the weapons system on bombing and fighter missions, according to Flynn.
"If you fly for the Navy off [aircraft] carriers you can't exactly be a coward," Flynn said.
Fran Sharer awaits her husband's return. Via television, she saw him arrive first in Algiers and then in Frankfurt, wearing a red T-shirt with an American eagle printed on it. And she has the letter she received from him at Christmas, the last one he sent to her from Tehran.
His closing words, Mrs. Sharer said were, "Count me American. Still serving the Navy."