Here’s how three children of the former hostages remember what happened after their fathers returned from Iran, where they were tortured, left in solitary confinement and subjected to mock executions.
Dana Lee, 45, daughter of Gary Lee (02/04/1943 -10/10/2010)
Dana Lee recalls the period her father, Gary Lee, returned home after being held hostage a “pivotal time” in her life, but she has few memories of how things actually unfolded. She was nine and says her mother shielded her from the news, keeping her routine as close to normal as possible.
She remembers the joy of her father’s return, though – “He was my dad, and he was home. That was all that mattered.”
She remembers her pride when her father, who had been an administrative officer at the embassy, spoke at her junior high school about how “he built a chess set out of Lifesavers candy; how he ‘made friends’ with a salamander that crawled around his room and how he teased ants with a pistachio, nudging the nut along the floor to keep it out of their reach; how he and his fellow hostages worked out codes to communicate with each other; and how he designed in his head the back deck that ended up on our house after he was released.”
She also remembers that he never really spoke about the bad parts of his captivity, and now believes that was his way of protecting her.
And she remembers the ensuing strain on her parents’ marriage, because it wasn’t only her father who had changed during the 444 days of his captivity: “My mom changed as a person. She had to become much more independent. She was it.”
The crisis also seemed to exacerbate in her father the kinds of latent flaws we all carry within us.
“My dad tended to be distant from my mom and me,” Dana Lee wrote in a tribute to him, “and he drank. No, the hostage crisis didn’t cause my dad to drink. He was a functioning alcoholic long before he was a hostage, but his drinking increased after he got home… Maybe that was his therapy; maybe it was there, with his bar buddies, that he tried to exorcise some of his demons rather than bring them into our home — I will never know.”
Being close to both her parents, Dana Lee wasn’t surprised when they divorced. In fact, she says, it brought some relief as she was close to both of them and they no longer seemed happy together.
Gary Lee, who returned to work as a diplomat after his release from Tehran, bought an RV when he retired and traveled all over the country, sending his only daughter postcards and staying in touch with regular phone calls. He finally settled in Texas, where he died of colon cancer in 2010.
“There is so much that I don’t remember,” Dana Lee now says. “We have boxes and boxes of memorabilia, and I don’t remember. I feel horribly guilty because I don’t remember and I feel like I should.”
John Holland, 57, son of Leland “Jumper” Holland ( 08/02/1937 – 10/02/1990 )
A “hardened warrior” is how John Holland describes his father, the late Leland “Jumper” Holland, who served two tours in Vietnam and was accustomed to spending long periods away from his wife and six children. Holland retired in 1986 as a full-bird colonel with decorations that included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.
But John Holland also remembers his father as a broken man, crouching in the corner of the basement, paralyzed by fear.
It wasn’t Vietnam that broke his father. John Holland is sure of that. Leland Holland knew how to handle a “wartime situation,” his son says. It was the 444 days he spent as a hostage in Iran, where he worked in intelligence as the Army Attache and so was singled out for especially bad treatment:
“He was tortured, beaten with rubber hoses and telephone books, wired to a chair. He experienced extensive isolation, multiple mock executions,” his son says.
Leland Holland returned to active duty after his release, often traveling to give speeches about his captivity. But as he neared retirement, without that outlet to talk about what had happened to him, the suffering could come flashing back.
As a young adult, living about 10 miles from his parents, John Holland remembers receiving frantic calls from his mother, and driving over to find his father squatting in a corner of the basement with his hands clasped behind his neck. Mumbling.
It was the same position, John Holland says, that the mock executions were performed in.
John Holland used to take 40 minutes or so to settle his father and “talk him back to reality.”
“Once I knew he was back and he was in control, then it was my arm around him, sit him down, give him water, and take care of my mom, her being hysterical.”
He and his mother would talk often about how his father was doing, he says, checking in every day on his way back from work before going home to his own wife and child.
“How was today?” he used to ask.
“He’s been a bear,” his mother might say. Or “It was a good day.”
“Emotionally, it was taxing,” John Holland remembers. “She knew adversity and she certainly suffered a lot too, waking up with nightmares and crying jags.”
Leland Holland, who died of prostate cancer in 1990, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in what’s known as the Hall of Heroes, not far from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Allyssa Keough Stevens, 53, daughter of William Keough ( 09/11/1930 – 11/27/1985)
“The wounds are still fresh,” says Alyssa Keough Stevens, whose father William F. Keough Jr, was superintendent of the 4,000-student American School in Tehran. Keough had closed the school well before the embassy takeover, she says, when he couldn’t get guarantees the students would be safe, and accepted a new assignment in Islamabad. But on that fateful November weekend, Keough had the green light to return to Tehran and collect student records.
That’s how the school super became a hostage. And at 6′ 9″, Keough was easy to pick out on TV footage.
Stevens, 17 at the time her father was seized, remembers being “one of the really outspoken people during the whole crisis. I am who I am. I was my father’s daughter.”
Her sister on the other hand “chose to not be in the limelight.” Those kinds of choices “separated families,” she says. “It was hard on every single family.”
The hardest thing she remembers from the crisis was “not knowing. We were never really kept fully informed. We saw things on TV. We ended up getting most of our news from certain reporters.”
In her wallet, Stevens carries an article by a Washington Post columnist about the hostages’ return, when they traveled first to Wiesbaden where Stevens joined them them, against the bidding of the State Department. But the “media’s pinup girl” was determined to be there.
“This,” writes the columnist, “is the way you greet a hero.”
Stevens feels robbed of time with her father, not only the time he spent in captivity but because he died so soon after his release, on November 27, 1985, her 24th birthday. She links the rapid progression of the ALS her father suffered from to the months he spent in a basement cell, which he and his fellow hostage, Richard Queen, dubbed the “Mushroom Inn” because it was so dark and dank. (Queen died in 2002 due to complications from MS.)
Stevens named her son William in her father’s memory. His 5th grade project was to pick a historical figure and create a living wax museum about that person. William Stevens chose his grandfather.