When President Reagan takes his second oath of office Monday, 52 men and women whose drama 6,300 miles away dominated his first inauguration -- and whose crisis played such a key role in his election -- will be conspicuously absent from the formal ceremonies.
For most of the Americans held hostage for 444 days in Iran after the Nov. 4, 1979, takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the fourth anniversary of their release will not be marked in any special way. Only three are expected to attend the swearing-in on the Capitol steps. (Two asked to be invited and the third is going as the guest of a friend.)
Four years ago, the last-minute negotiations between the Carter administration and the Iranian government and the dawn announcement that the hostages would be released overshadowed the inaugural events. Television coverage was interrupted continuously with updates. And when news that the planes carrying the hostages had lifted from the Tehran airport five minutes after Ronald Reagan concluded his inaugural speech, the day erupted into a collective celebration of the American spirit.
This year the inaugural belongs solely to Ronald Reagan.
"We are commemorating the second inauguration of the president and there are other avenues of historical remembrance for those kinds of events," inaugural committee spokesman Tucker Eskew said, explaining why there will be no formal marking of the hostages' release on Jan. 20, 1981. "It just wasn't considered."
Scattered around the globe, their lives returned to normal, the former hostages are not upset about the lack of pomp celebrating the anniversary of their release.
"Reagan is right. He wants to get on with his own agenda," said Moorhead C. Kennedy Jr., the third-ranking diplomat at the American embassy in Tehran at the time of the takeover. One of the few to retire from the State Department after his return, Kennedy, 54, now works with the Council for International Understanding in New York City.
Most of the former hostages interviewed said they plan to spend the day as they normally would on other days. But if the burden of helplessness that the nation bore because of the hostages has eased, their scars remain.
"It will always be a part of my life," said Barry Rosen, the press attache at the embassy when it was stormed by Iranian student militants, and now the special assistant to the president of Brooklyn College and a guest lecturer there.
Rosen, like many of the other hostages interviewed recently, said people he meets are still curious about his captivity, but that for the most part Americans want to forget what they saw as the humiliation of their country at the hands of Iran.
"It is a very uncomfortable memory for most Americans," said Rosen, who tells students at the beginning of his courses that "This is not a class in voyeurism."
"American people don't want to remember Americans going through a very difficult situation. They want to remember the good times, the heroic times."
The inauguration is not the only sign that Americans are trying to forget the hostage crisis.
A few weeks after hostages were released, President Carter's former media adviser, Gerald Rafshoon, was commissioned by CBS television to produce a docudrama about the event, but when the script was finished a couple of years later, Rafshoon said the network declined to make the movie.
"We were told that this was a time . . . . when the public didn't want to see movies about two areas: Vietnam and Iran," said Rafshoon. A European film company is now interested in the script.
The Family Liaison Action Group, formed when the hostages were still in captivity, now consists of one active member, Cherlynn Hall, whose husband, Joseph Hall, was a military attache at the embassy. A proposal to compensate the hostages $10.50 a day for their captivity died in a congressional committee, as did efforts to extend the three-year Hostage Relief Act of 1980, which gave civilian hostages the same education and medical benefits received by military personnel.
No action has been taken on recommendations for compensation made by a presidential commission, and last October the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the former hostages could not sue their captors.
"I think the administration would like to act as if the embassy takeover never occured," said Robert Ode, 69, the oldest former hostage. Ode now lives in Sun City West, Ariz. where he's learning to play golf with his wife Rita.
Yet while many hostages said they are disappointed about the lack of compensation, most said they understand, and welcome, their fading from the country's memory and exclusion from the inaugural ceremonies.
"Some had real problems in that they did not recognize immediately that we were not heroes," said Col. Charles Scott, a military attache at the time of the takeover. Scott, divorced and remarried since his return, retired from the military and works as a Middle East consultant. He has published a book on the crisis, "Pieces of the Game," and lives in Jonesboro, Ga.
Instead, said Scott, the return of the hostages was an excuse for Americans to wave the flag after two decades of "self flagellation and criticism." Scott said there will be enough signs of Yankee Doodle pandering during the inauguration without the hostages. "Upstaging" one shift of presidential power was enough, he said.
"I've heard people say if there hadn't been an Iranian crisis we would have had to invent one to get the American people back together after the divisiveness of the Vietnam era and the Watergate era," said Scott, who contrasted the ebullient, ticker-tape welcome the hostages received to his return from Vietnam when he was hit with a handbag by an older woman.
"I was sitting next to a Reagan official at the Gridiron dinner and he said the administration wanted to play down the hostages as much as possible," said Kennedy, whose book on the crisis, "The Ayatollah in the Cathedral, Lessons from Iran," is scheduled to be published next month.
"That's quite understandable. . . . When we had a memorial service the Reagan administration did the minimum, but they did what was right. They wanted to put it away as quickly as possibly and I think that was the mood then."
Indeed, John Buckley, an inaugural committee spokesman, said the very absence of any commemoration in this weekend's events is a sign that America is "back on track" and the pain of the hostage crisis is over.
Yet as the national spotlight dims and, as Ode put it, "going to the supermarket for a quart of milk no longer takes an hour," some hostages said the upcoming anniversary of their release is a reminder that personal problems and vivid memories remain.
Many of the hostages have been reassigned to different State Department posts abroad and others have gone on to different lines of work. Some, though, have had difficulties getting or holding jobs while others wonder whether their careers have been sidetracked. Seven are divorced or separated and about a dozen initially underwent psychological counseling. William Keough, the principal of the American school in Tehran, is gravely ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease.
"I'm just happy to be my normal crazy self," said Gary Lee, now in the office of foreign buildings at the State Department, echoing the relief of many of his fellow hostages that life finally seems to be back on track. Lee was divorced after his return from Tehran.
But others say their readjustment was much more difficult than they anticipated. William Belk, now 44, recently asked to be reassigned from his State Department position as a communications officer in Australia because he could no longer stand working in a cryptographic vault as he had done in Tehran.
"I couldn't stand being confined in small spaces," said Belk, who was beaten and placed in solitary confinement after he tried to escape.
Kennedy said he has a recurring nightmare that he is being loaded back on a plane to Iran to begin his captivity again. "The memory fades slowly," he said.
Col. Leland J. Holland, the embassy's chief of security, said he wondered if he and his fellow hostages would be treated suspiciously like returning prisoners of war. "I had the impression with the POWs that people were always watching them out of the corner of their eye wondering what crazy thing they might do." Holland said he hadn't noticed any hesitation to promote him, "but I wasn't exactly on a slow boat to China when this all happened."
Holland, 57, spent 7 1/2 months in solitary confinement in Tehran and is now the commander of a small military procurement base in Warrenton. He is a regular speaker for Army recruiting drives. When Holland was asked last week if he was attending any of the inaugural events, he said he had not been invited but had always wanted to go. He later called the inaugural committee and, after identifying himself as a former hostage, received two invitations to Reagan's public swearing-in ceremony.
Also in the stands will be Bruce Laingen, the ranking diplomat in Tehran at the time of the embassy takeover and now vice president of the National Defense University, who was asked to the swearing-in ceremony by a friend; and Chief Warrant Officer Donald Hohman. Now stationed in Garlstedt, Germany, Hohman, 42, wrote and asked White House officials last year if he could participate in the inaugural activities.
"I would have preferred to have been a part of it," said Hohman, a medical corpsman in Tehran. "But I'm just glad to have been invited. I kind of think of Reagan as the guy who got me out of the bind down there."
Some former hostages said the upcoming inauguration raises questions about whether the present administration may have forgotten the lessons of Iran. At the time of their return President Reagan warned that future acts of terrorism would be followed by "swift and effective retribution."
Paul Needham, an Air Force major now living in Maryland, said the recent execution of two officials of the Agency for International Development after their plane had been hijacked to Iran was "just another incident in a series of incidents where Iran chose America as a target and got away with it."
Scott is writing an anniversary column for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that he said takes a "hard look" at what the hostage release agreement signed by President Carter unfreezing Iranian assets from American banks signaled to the rest of the world.
"It encouraged state-sponsored terrorism," said Scott, whose two worst days since returning to America occurred when the U.S. Embassy and the Marine headquarters in Beirut were bombed.
Despite the criticisms, many hostages said they were grateful to have been released unharmed and that some good had come of their captivity.
"My wife said recently she liked the one who came back better than the one who went out there," said Kennedy.
And, added Holland, "Although it certainly does not compensate for what happened, some nice things happened to me as a result of it all. . . . Who would have ever known or cared about Holland if he had not been a hostage?"