A 24-year State Department veteran and economic affairs expert, Robert Blucker, 54, was one of 66 Americans taken hostage when Islamic militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979.
He was one of 52 who endured the 444-day-long ordeal that followed.
Blucker had served in Buenos Aires, Bonn, West Berlin, Lagos and Tripoli before his transfer from East Berlin to Tehran six days before the takeover.
It was my first real working day at the embassy. I had arrived from East Berlin six days earlier, but has spent three days on a kind of holiday and another two days getting familiar with the embassy and my duties.
I lived in an apartment that the embassy leased a couple of blocks away, and on that day, Nov. 4, 1979, I arrived at the embassy compound about 7:40 a.m. to start my new job.
There wasn't any warning that anything unusual was about to happen.
The first I knew that anything was really wrong was about 10:30 a.m., when suddenly, out in the hall, I heard a shout by a Marine: "Everybody out!" he said.
I was told that demonstrators were in the compound and around the embassy and that we were to move up and take cover in a more secure area on the second floor.
I lingered behind in my office to lock my safes, but after closing them, I got to thinking that perhaps it might not come out just right. I went back to the safes, reopened them, and took out my money, which was about $1,000, and put that in my pocket. I took nothing else.
Then I went up to the second floor.
There were 50, 60, maybe 70 people there.
As we went in, we saw a steel door, to provide security. We had a lot of protection. Too much protection, in fact. The windows had bars, and the lower half of the windows had been covered with metal boxes about 8 inches thick, filled with grit and gravel to stop bullets from passing through.
I climbed up on a radiator once or twice to look out over the bulletproof metal boxes at the window. I wanted to see what was happening, but the only thing I could see was a single line of Iranians. Young people, they looked like, spaced about 10-foot intervals in front of the embassy, facing up, looking at us. The line looked about a city block long. I did not see any weapons.
I would guess it was about a half hour after I first saw them all in a line outside that they got into the chancery building.
Some tear gas was fired at them as they made their entry.
Shortly, there was a fire downstairs. They were burning papers to make smoke, to try to smoke us out.
Eventually word came to open the door, to surrender.
The steel door was unlocked and opened, but, to my surprise, the Iranians did not come bursting in. Only one came in, and he was apparently unarmed. He looked around, then went to look at the code room door, the communications rooms door, which was locked. I think some people had locked themselves inside.
Then more of these people poured into the room, and they started moving out the embassy staff, one by one.
We were pushed through the crowd inside the room, out the door and into the hall, where we were grabbed from behind and blindfolded and had our hands tied with some kind of rags.
I was led down the stairs, which were body-to-body with people.
Outside, I was walked across grass and concrete, over one curb, over another one, and in a couple of minutes I couldn't tell which direction I was going. I was taken into a building where it was quiet, where the air conditioner was running, where it was cool. I was pushed into a chair. There were other prisoners around me.
As soon as we had sat down, they searched us. They took my money from out of my billfold and out of my pockets, where I had hidden some of it, but within a few minutes they brought it back.
"We're not thieves," one told me.
But they took my keys, a little notebook that I made notes in, credit cards and everything else in the billfold. They took everything except my ring and watch.
Incidentally, my money was stolen the following Feb. 8. In the Bungalows
I sat in the chair for about an hour, and then they moved me out again. We were still in the compound, in little staff bungalows. I was moved from one of those bungalows to another.
There were about nine or 10 of us, and we camped in the living and dining areas and the porch.
Our captors argued ideology with us all the time, and it was clear right from the start that they were Islamic radical leftists.
I remember some of the talk on the second day, when one of the boys guarding us was shouting about the Rockefellers and rich capitalists. I told him he was a capitalist too because he was wearing a button-down shirt. He looked down, saw the buttons and tore them off.
My captors already had decided I was bourgeois. For one thing, I was wearing a dark suit with a vest and tie. In fact, I slept in it for the first 45 days I was a prisoner.
They fed us about 8 or 9, then they bedded us down. I actually was given a bed that first night. And that was the last bed I slept in for about 444 days.
On the second day, at about 10 o'clock, a young man who was better dressed than most and spoke very good English came to see me. He asked if I would go with him to my office in chancery.
I had an idea that this could be hazardous, but nevertheless I wanted to see what was happening outside. I agreed to go. He led me to the chancery, with my hands tied but no blindfold.
The people led me around from room to room in the economic section and wanted to know who used the offices. I wouldn't tell them. They also wanted to know the combinations of the safes. I didn't know, but I had decided not to cooperate anyhow. A Threat of Death
They took me back into my office and sat me on a chair and tried to force me to say where I lived. They struck me several times with an open hand. On the face. And they kicked me on the legs and threatened to kill me. One said he would slit my throat.
They gave me 10 minutes to answer. Meanwhile, they carried on, verbally abusing me. They also knocked my glasses off.
At the end of 10 minutes, I wasn't killed.
I figured at this point they are a lot of bluff, that they really didn't have the authority to kill anybody, and I didn't hear anymore about where I lived.
On the second or third night, Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini's son, Ahmad, came to visit. Our guards told us that we could watch.
Ahmad came in, but he didn't even look at us. Our captors told us that Ahmad was there to cheer them on to encourage them, to congratulate them on what they had done.
He sat down among them, played with his worry beads, and smiled and talked to them, and they listened rapturously. The house was full, there were even people outside listening.
It was at this point that I decided things were serious. Really serious.
A little after midnight on the fourth or fifth day after we were seized, my guards burst into the room in the tiny bungalow on the embassy grounds where I was kept with 10 other Americans.
"Get up! Get up!" the guard shouted in English.
These moves, and I made 16 of them before the 444 days were over, always came between midnight and 3 a.m., for some reason.
We were put into a car and driven away.
We did not go far, just to the ambassador's residence that was on one side of the big embassy compound. Our captors marched us upstairs, and when I took off my blindfold I discovered my companions were the ones I was with during the first hours of our capture. One was Jerry Plotkin, the American businessman, and another Steve Kirtley, the Marine from my home town of Little Rock.
We were tied into chairs and left sitting that way for several hours. Finally we were allowed to lie down on the bare floor. There was one large bed in the room, but it was used by our guards, who were waving sticks -- the only weapons we saw at the time.
And so we settled into our new home.
The food we ate was a sort of Iranian stuff and odd things that seemed to come from the ambassador's kitchen. One meal consisted of a small piece of bread, one boiled egg and a piece of dilled pickle. That was dinner.
At this early stage, all I did was lie there, all day, with my hands tied. Photo Trouble
I was troubled at that point by photographers. This was the first case when I refused to let my captors photograph me. That went on right to the end, and I was concerned with keeping my face away from the cameras. They argued with me for a while, but I just kept saying, "I won't be photographed."
Just when I thought I had settled down to a routine, they woke me up again in the middle of the night. The blanket went over my head again and I was led away.
I was placed in a van with some other people, I couldn't tell how many, and we were driven from the embassy compound.
The trip took 20 to 30 minutes, and when the van stopped we were taken, still blindfolded, into a very cold house. There, our guards told us to lie on the floor and go to sleep.
When morning came, I was led upstairs into the bedroom and told to get down on the floor. I saw that I was with three other Americans, all military officers and two of them men I'd never met.
The atmosphere in the house was bad. The air was poor. The food was very bad. We didn't take a bath for about a week, and we couldn't see outside. We had a guard in the room with us all the time.
It was hard times. We felt that we were in a super-hostage stage, taken out and hidden in case of a rescue raid. But the strangest thing was where we were. It was the villa of some rich, cultured Iranian family, which probably had fled when the shah fell.
We ate our food, as bad as it was, with sterling silver spoons, and drank from crystal glasses.
We could leave our room only to go down the marble stairs to the toilet. Books to Read
But the guards did begin to bring us books. English, French books, German books, all from the family that once lived in the villa.
My days were spent on the floor under blankets, reading books, and it was there that Thanksgiving came and went. We did not observe it.
One day, the guards passed around a questionnaire, for about the third time, wanting to know our names, birthdays, religion, occupation and address. I filled it out, except for where it asked where you lived.
About 6 p.m. one day, I was taken downstairs into a very cold room and was terrorized and intimidated for about six hours. I was kept blindfolded and handcuffed in a chair. My hands swelled up and I had nerve damage that lasted three months.
To scare me, they had two terrorist types standing there, one with a machine pistol and one with an automatic rifle. Every so often, they clicked the mechanism. They worked on me until they got tired and drifted away to think about it before coming back.
I figured this would all start over again the next day, so I thought I would finesse the situation. I told them a lie.
In fact, I told them about the little embassy bungalow where I had been held when I was first captured. They wanted me to sketch its layout, just to make sure I wasn't lying, and I did because I remembered it. I also knew everything in the bungalow had been carried away the first day so they had no proof that it wasn't mine. That solved it. The question never came up again.
The next time they moved us, it was back to the embassy compound and into another bedroom in the ambassador's residence. I had the same roommates. We only stayed a few days and there was another general shuffle. I went just down the hall again to the corner room where I had been before.
They were still telling us they were holding us until the shah was returned. I was called out one night by one of the Iranians, who had a petition that he wanted me to sign. It called on President Carter or Congress to return the shah so we could regain our freedom. I saw that 32 names were signed, and the well-educated and well-dressed young man in charge of the operation told me things would go badly for me if I didn't sign, but I refused.
I told him that the United States would never send the shah back, that the president didn't have the power to do it. Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve 1979, our guards told us some priests and clergymen from the United States were coming to conduct a special Christmas service for the hostages. They didn't say when, but, as it turned out, it was about three hours later, at 3 a.m.
By this time, we were being held in a room on the second floor of the U.S. ambassador's residence on the embassy grounds in Tehran.
Down on the first floor we could hear Christmas carols, and it was obvious Americans were singing them.
My roommates were led away blindfolded for the service. I did not go.
There were two reasons why. One was I was afraid they would carry me into the room blindfolded, and I was not going to take the chance of going through that humiliation.
Also, I figured that probably the clergymen might have to be political to be admitted to the country at all, and that didn't please me.
I did not regret missing it. I knew it was bad for my relatives that I was not photographed, but I had decided that just on principle I did not want to take part.
However, there was a Christmas meal, served by our captors, and I believe it was cooked by the former ambassador's Pakistani cook. He was captured and was either paid or held as a slave for about a year. I never saw him, and I don't know anybody else who saw him. But it must have been his cooking. It was a turkey dinner with dressing and a couple of different kinds of pie.
The first time I received a letter from the outside world was about Christmas time. It was from a second cousin of mine who was working in Saudia Arabia, in Jeddah, and why his letter came through first, I don't know. The letter said about what I thought it would say -- that he was sorry that I was in this mess. If he had given any news of the world, the letter would not have gotten to me. Out guards always opened my mail, throughout the whole period of captivity.
After Christmas I was very pessimistic. In my opinion, I told the others in my room, we would stay right where we were for six months to a year.
I thought the next election would have a lot to do with it, and that was 11 months away. I thought they would do everything in their power to defeat Jimmy Carter and that they would continue this thing until after the election.
On the day before New Year's Day 1980 we were shuffled out again, as usual in the middle of the night. This time we were put in a room in the basement of the chancery, the main embassy building. And this time there were four of us, plus the usual guard. The Exercise Room
I began agitating right away for an exercise room. Anything was better than standing, jogging in place, in our tiny crowded room, and after a couple days they opened up a room measuring about 6 feet by 9 feet. There was no heat, but it was enough for us to jump around in.
The treatment of everybody was not the same. We could hear what was going on in the next room, which contained younger Americans, and we knew the treatment for them was considerably better. They didn't have a guard and they could talk, they had cards and played a lot at that. They had a tennis ball they bounced off the wall. They could use a tape recorder now and then to play music.
In our room, the guards told us, "You are bad people, your conduct is bad." I don't know why they decided that. But I wouldn't write letters for them. They would come in and say, "Now we're going to write letters to senators." I would refuse. They wanted us to tell the senators to send the shah back to Iran.
This was pretty much my daily routine:
I woke up about 8 a.m. when our guards brought in breakfast, which usually was bread with butter, or jelly or sometimes goat cheese. Then we read for a while -- books that we were getting by now from the embassy library.
Then we would go off one by one to the exercise room, and then come back and read on the mattresses until lunch, which was usually American style, courtesy of the Pakistani cook. But he didn't seem to know about vegetables. cI made up for the lack of them by chewing tea leaves and eating orange peels.
After lunch, it was back to boredom. We read until dinner, at 8, 9 or 10 p.m. About half the time, dinner was beef noodle soup, and as a special treat, they gave us dates. We carefully counted them and divided them up, three or four of them for each man. Then we usually were asleep by 11 p.m. Another Shift
At the end of February, something happened outside that caused another shift of people. This room of four of ours was broken up, and Robert Ode and myself were moved upstairs.
The guards still talked a lot about the shah and what America had done to Iran, but they never gave any news about the shah's whereabouts or anything like that. Although I could tell from their accents that many of them had studied or lived in America, they were sort of sheepish about it. Only one ever admitted he had studied in America.
We knew only their first names. Never more. We also knew from what they said that most were technical students, engineering, medicine, physics, things like that.
In January or February, the militants distributed a propaganda book of their movement, which had been published before the shah was overthrown. There were a lot of interesting things in it. One was the question of human rights. Their people had written a list of human rights that prisoners should have in the shah's jail.
For example, they should get not only the party newspaper but the opposition newspaper. Not only a radio that could receive the local government stations, but a shortwave radio so they could hear all sides of the story. Also dental care and right to work.
One night, I decided to show this to our guard. He spoke pretty good English and he had brought me a mattress once. He was a chemical engineering student, just as I once was. So as I was being blindfolded for a trip to the toilet, I brought this up. I told him that we had no rights at all. We couldn't speak to anybody. We couldn't have any newspapers. "How do you explain that?" I asked.
He got so angry his English failed him, and he began sputtering in Farsi, and kicked me in the rear and shoved me out into the hall. The aspirin War
One day in April, a man from the International Red Cross came to visit. With him was a Swiss doctor. We could complain about anything we wanted. I only had one complaint: that I had difficulty getting aspirin, which I take all the time for a mild arthritis condition.
My guards seemed to think aspirin tablets were a means of suicide, and often they only gave me one at a time out of their grubby hands. Other times they would give me a bottle and then somebody would come along and take the bottle away. I complained. The Iranians immediately said they always gave me aspirin.
Mr. Ode and I stayed together until April 25, which was the day of the big dispersal.
It became apparent along about noon that something was going on, something out of the ordinary.
At about 6 p.m., I guess, they told us we were going to move.
"Don't take much with you," my guards said. "Only two books." But I already had learned not to listen to orders. It took everything I could pack into a plastic sack.
We ate a final dinner and finished off the dates that we had, then sat. About 11 p.m. they came and got us and put us into a van. They also photographed us. We were blindfolded and handcuffed.
About midnight, we got under way. It turned out that there were four of us in the van, shackled to each other. There were two or three of them, the driver, one guy in front with a machine gun and I think another one behind us with a gun.
We went to a town about two hours away. They stopped in the dark, on a dirt road, just outside the town. Then we got under way again, and it was 10 hours before we arrived at our destination. In all this 10 hours, there was no rest stop for us. We were shouting for a rest stop, but nobody paid any attention.
So we landed around noon in the middle of [Tabriz], at the apartment of a mullah.
We were told we were to rest there for two days before moving to permanent quarters. The mullah had hot water, and I took a hot shower for the first time in about four months.
After three days at the mullah's house, they moved us into permanent quarters, which the mullah told us was the American consulate.
It had been vacant since feb. 15, and was being used as a compound for the revolutionary militia. Akbar the Good
The man who was in charge of us was one of the best, most decent people in the whole group.
Apparently he was in very solid, ideologically, with the movement, but he was more human. He was about 27 years old, and his name was Akbar.
Akbar built a shower and also an American-style toilet, to replace the type Iranians use, which really is just a fancy hole in the floor. And he acquired an American washing machine and dryer somewhere.
But the great thing that he did was to construct a barbed-wire enclosure outside in the garden so we could go outside for air and sunshine.
They had brought some books with them from Tehran and they brought food and toilet supplies. We ate what the militia ate, but not with them.
I must admit we were treated pretty well, compared with what was to come and with the way the others were treated.
I had been agitating since the first day for them to bring us news magazines, even if they were three months old, four months, six months, whatever. One day, Akbar delivered a current Newsweek. News about Iran had been censored, but the censorship was not perfect.
I fund passages indicating that there had been an attempt by the Americans on or about April 24 to rescue us and that it had failed.
Akbar later gave us two more current magazines, and we could find enough tidbits to see that the American people had been aroused and were supportive. Hints of Freedom
We were sort of led to believe that we might be headed for release. Several of the guards were friendly and came to visit. One came one night and said, "Maybe they release you now."
Mullahs came to visit us twice. One was a very important mullah, they told us. The first one was a very cheery fellow, and he encouraged us to continue our exercises in preparation for release, as if it stood there before us, just a few weeks away.
We were being quite well-treated there, but if they did not take us outside any one day, we tended to get very angry with them, and bang on the door and insist they take us out. I came to regard it as my right.
We were at the U.S. consulate for 77 days.
On July 10, 1980, we were driven blindfolded in a van under guard in the middle of the night, our usual mode of travel.
We arrived (back in Tehran) a little after daylight. I was dumped into a cell. About 12 hours later, another American hostage, Sgt. (Regis) Ragan, was put into my cell.
It was very cold and measured about 12 by 15 feet. I continually paced back and forth across it for exercise. We seemed to have the Pakistani cook again, judging from what type food I ate, and so I assumed the great majority of Americans were here because they usually sent him where the most of us were.
A man named Achmad, a very hateful fellow and older, about 30, I would say, was in charge.
When I asked him about magazines, it was as if he had never heard of such a thing before. But they were passing around a few sports magazines. Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, and there were clues in there about other things -- the Olympics and the Afghanistan war, for example.
It was while here that I began to doubt that our captors had the capability to ever release us, to pull themselves together enough even to negotiate a way out.
Around Sept. 22, we knew something big was going on. Suddenly, there was a blackout and everybody on the ground was firing at something. We surmised there was a war with somebody. Within a week, it occurred to somebody that it probably was Iraq. When we asked the guards, they refused to answer, but their reactions told me that it was Iraq. It was a delight to hear those Iraqi planes come over.
I never knew why we were moved from prison, but we were, on Oct. 22.
This time, we were someplace where there was a lot of activity. I smelled a bakery on the ground floor. Cars were being worked on in the yard. There was a car wash going. We were in some kind of military compound, I guessed.
They put iron plates over the windows, but there were little cracks, and we could see that we were somewhere in north Tehran.
I was in a tiny little room, 6 feet wide and 10 feet long. These were, it seemed, rooms that had been subdivided, two made out of one.
After a few days, they opened up the dorrs and let two of us in one of these connected rooms in contact. It was Malcolm Kalp. I was the first person that he had talked to in more than a year.
At this place, Akbar, who was in charge at Tabriz, appeared again. I had asked for German literature. Surprisingly, he brought me a copy of the magazine Der Spiegel from April 1980, and then he brought me a copy of the magazine Stern. The funny part was that they were not censored. The article in Stern had a big article on the American raid. So for the first time I had the full picture of what happened. Rousted Out Again
On Christmas Eve, we were rousted out again, as usual with no explanation of where we were going.
We were taken to this compound that was like a luxury hotel.
There were thick rugs on the floor, silk-like panels on the walls, a marble bathroom. They put plywood over the windows.
A professor had written me, saying that the shah had died, and somehow the letter got through. I asked when the shah had died. Achmad insisted that the shah was still alive and that if he should die, we would all be killed. This was two months after the shah had died.
I did not take part in the second Christmas party either.
I didn't even get up to greet the Algerian ambassador, who came on Christmas night.
The fact that the Algerians were in the game and seen fit to come around and see us, and to tell us that the United States had accepted in principle the conditions set by Iranians, made me think that there was now some hope for us.
The night before Jan. 20 our guards came around and said they wanted blood samples and urine samples. I refused. I said I didn't want to catch hepatitis from their needles. But I cooperated immediately when one of the doctors told me he was Algerian. 'Pack Your Things'
Jan. 20 started off as the usual dull day, with us alone and ready. Nothing happened until about 6 p.m., when Achmad came to say, "You're leaving Iran. Pack your things."
He said we could only take a small bag. I argued with him. He took my things outside. They just left my stuff sitting there when we left the country.
I stuffed my blindfold rags into my pockets to keep as souvenirs. I stuffed one piece of paper with notes into a pocket and I kept a nail, a bent 10-penny size that I used as a tool.
I was put into a van with the windows painted over. It was about 8 p.m. The mood was jubilant but subdued. The conversation was fairly light, though, and we didn't talk about our treatment.
Pretty soon, I heard the hissing of jets. We were driven right down near them. There was chaos.
We sat and we sat and we sat while all the milling went on. Finally, we left the van out the back door, down into a mass of screaming students. I recognized several as our captors.
They had prepared a gauntlet there for us to run. It was a final demonstration of rage. Nobody whacked me, but I was pushed a lot. Up the ramp we went to civilized people, the Algerians.
It was one stage of elation to walk into the plane, knowing it had nothing but civilized people on it. It was a second stage of elation to feel the plane actually taxiing and then to lift off. Everybody cheered. When the pilot announced the takeoff, there was another cheer.
As soon as we were off, everybody left their seats to circulate. The first things I wanted to know was how people were treated and where they had been.
The Algerians gave us champagne and red wine, and everybody was offering a toast to freedom.