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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS

Witnessed: The Iran Hostage Crisis

Aired October 28, 2014 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the CNN special report, Witnessed the Iran Hostage Crisis. I'm Anderson Cooper. 35 years ago the U.S. was facing were often described as its first conflict with political Islam. It was the Iranian revolution was toppled the pro Western Monarchy of the Shah of Iran and installed an Anti-Western government lead by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Iran was becoming an Islamic state with a particular hatred and suspicion towards the United States which you called The Great Satan.

This anger and hostility cumulated on November 4th 1979 when a group of Iranian protesters attack the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. They storm the gates. They broke into embassy buildings and took 66 Americans hostage. The images of Americans blind folded, handcuffs, and paraded in front of screaming crowds. Ignited shock and out rage back in United States. They were interrogated, some were beaten and tortured, but no idea if they be released or even if they would survive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iranian revolution was the first time I ever heard the United States refer to as The Great Satan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This revolution is extraordinary fast. The first outbreak of demonstration was in probably 1978. Basically by the end of the year the Shah was leaving the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we were caught on unawares by the rapid rise of the revolution, by the unpopularity of the Shah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. Embassy in Tehran has been invaded and occupied. The American inside have been taken prisoner.

Their demanding the United States give up the deposed Shah of Iran from his hospital bed in New York to stand trial before of people court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During his 37 year reign the Shah has made the Iran the most westernized of the Muslim countries. And so doing he has continually undercut the long hill power of Muslim religious leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By soaring oil profits in the 1970s, Iran was plagued by crippling inflation he Shah, who liked to show off his lavish lifestyle, was criticized for ignoring the poor and middle class. MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR, "QUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH: Iranians brightly blame the United States coup that put the Shah in power.

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR, 1979: Iranians resented that. Resented to this day, consider to be a totally unwarranted and unforgivable intrusion into their sovereignty.

BOWDEN: The Shah rightly Iran leading is perceived as being out touch with the Iranian people, with the tool of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The forces of the left and the right that unite behind Khomeini have one thing in common, hatred of the Shah and his secret police.

BOWDEN: The Ayatollah had become popular in the previous decades because he'd be exiled by the Shah and it becomes a symbol of resistance to the Shah.

GARY SICK, NATIOANL SECURITY COUNCIL 1979: The ideology that Khomeini represented was really not known. So Washington was very uninformed about what was going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Distinguish leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was New Years 1978 and I was in Tehran. Jimmy Carter was visiting, the Shah was still there. And Jimmy Carter famously referred to Iran as being...

JIMMY CARTER: An island of stability and one of the more troubled areas of the world.

BOWDEN: This of course was seen by the Iranian people as further evidence that Jimmy Carter was a close friend and ally of the Shah.

CARTER: This is great tribute to you, your majesty and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Jimmy Carter even before the Shah fled Iran was seen as enemy of the Iranian people.

SICK: You're got to remember the kind of situation the Shah was in. Here's a guy who's been on the thrown for 37 years. He spend through a number of assassination attempts, he's weathered a number of revolts against his rule. He has an incredible amount of money from the oil revenues that he was coming in. He had one of the most feared security services in the world. So it's not entirely unreasonable that people thought that he would prevail in this operation.

And the fact that he just stumbled time after time after time and refuse to take the kind of action that he needed to. Surprised us, surprise the people who were around him actually. And in the end wanted brought him down and, you know, we were astonished when it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There might have been tears in the eyes of Shah's he left Iran for what could be the last time. There was nothing but shared delight on the faces of demonstrators who took to speak of capital in there thousands to celebrate the departure of the man they have hated for so long.

BOWDEN: I think the Iranian people were surprise at the ease with which they overthrew the Shah and there was a great deal of worry and suspicion that it could -- it had been too easy. You know, that the United States was planning to hold the ragout from under the revolution and put the Shah back in power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 16 days after the Shah's departure, the most powerful of Iran religious leaders returns home from 15 years in exile. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at 79 is the sworn enemy of the Shah.

BOWDEN: I think, you know, the Ayatollah Khomeini was a cipher to most Americans because we have never dealt with a zealous powerful religious leader who was fundamentally Anti-American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iranian people are united and they believe and all of them are behind communist leadership and as a Iranian, I will say Khomeini is my leader and I believe in his leaders.

KOPPEL: Back then these creatures of Ayatollah Khomeini were recorded on audio cassettes. Those audio cassettes were smuggled into Iran and point literally past from hand to hand. Recorded, rerecorded, rerecorded again. And those sermons, those political lectures of the Ayatollah Khomeini gave from his places safety on the outskirts of past.

They created a revolutionary atmosphere inside Iran and yes we slow to recognize just how powerful that movement was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he was a hero when he returns to Iran, he becomes in a matter of days very nearly God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the first time that the United States that ever encounter political Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The women plotted into the future by the Shah voluntarily had done the traditional Muslim Chador.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we and most of the world were really surprised by what happened.

KATHRYN KOOB, HOSTAGE US EMBASSY IN TEHRAN 1979: Politically it was absolutely fascinating because the Shah had been deposed. He fled the country and Iran was in the throws of building something called the Islamic republic of Iran. Fascinating to be in at the beginning of a new government, I thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today it all focuses on the depose Shah, he arrive today and what maybe his last heaven, Cairo.

REZA PAHLAVI, SON OF THE LAST SHAH OF IRAN: It was a series of exiles steps one by one starting with Egypt where they were greeted by President Sadat. Then they move on to Morocco. From Morocco we move on to the Bahamas, we were there for about two months. After the Bahamas we were in Mexico for another two months.

SICK: It was there that on American doctor was called in to see him because he was feeling very ill. And after two visits discovered that the Shah was -- had cancer, lymphoma and was needed serious treatment. That changed everything. To that point there was tremendous pressure to bring the Shah into the country.

BOWDEN: There was a great deal of concern about allowing the Shah back to the United States for treatment.

KOOB: From a compassionate humanistic point of view it was the right thing to do. But from the pragmatic political point of view there were lots of places where he could have been treated. We were all apprehensive.

BOWDEN: The embassy in Tehran could sense that this could potentially be the spark that would ignite real hostility toward the American embassy.

SICK: Jimmy Carter kept resisting, finally he had a showdown meeting early October of 1979.

All of these advisors were there and one after the other they recommended to him the Shah be allowed to come into the country. And so finally he looked around the room and he was the only one left that had not declared himself in favor of bring the Shah in.

And at that point Carter said, in fact, "OK. You win. I will approve bringing the Shah back into the country. But I wonder what kind of advice you're going to give me when our people are taking hostage in Iran."

RICK KUPKE, HOSTAGE, U.S. EMBASSY IN TEHRAN, 1979: I remember I was working around October 19th or 20th and I reaped a telegram classified of the (inaudible) machine and I look at it. And it was from the state department and it said, "The President is allowing the Shah into the United States for cancer treat."

JOHN LIMBERT, HOSTAGE, U.S. EMBASSY IN TEHRAN, 1979: Our sense at the embassy, many of us and my sense was well, we're done. We're finished. We know what's going to happen, it isn't going to be good?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALAN GOLACINSKI, U.S. EMBASSY IN TEHRAN, 1979: We knew there was going to be a protest on November 4th. We weren't alarmed. The route in front of the embassy was a favorite route for protest.

It started out in the hundreds. It gathered Steve (ph). None of that was directed in us in the initial stages.

KUPKE: If anything, I think it was a smaller crowd that I guess there were maybe 3,000 people out there. I didn't pay much attention at all to it. LIMBERT: from that morning groups were walking pass the embassy. And about 10 or 10:30 in the morning, one of the groups got there and stop in front of the gates were shouting with slogan.

This was nothing unusual.

KUPKE: All of a sudden, I got word from the marines. They're over the wall, they're coming in. And minutes later, there's a break in.

So I'm listening to this and I just can't believe what I'm hearing from almost nothing to there's a break in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole American embassy in Tehran it's like a enclosed campus.

GOLACINSKI: Our compound was 27 acres. And to give you some perspective on that, the White House grounds are 18 acres in order to deal with this. I had 14 marines.

I was reminded that there were under no circumstances to use any lethal force in defense of the embassy. We had a safe area with a steel door and a cipher lock to get in there. And so we started evacuating all of our personnel up to the top deck.

The marines asked for orders had withdrawn to the top floor. They had taken all the weapons out of the weapon's cabinets and everything else and they're taking their defensive positions.

BOWDEN: The effort of taking over the embassy was a coordinated one involving radical Islamic students from all of the major universities in Tehran.

And the idea was to bridge the gate, enter the compound, take the American workers their hostage and to hold a sit in.

BILL DAUGHERTY, U.S. EMBASSY IN TEHRAN, 1979: It wasn't until they managed to break into a base of window and actually get into the embassy that we, the CIA begin destroying documents.

KUPKE: We are very carefully destroying everything that is confidential and secret in higher and it finally got the point of it was taking too much time.

GOLACINSKI: I sought permission to go out and negotiate with these people. They kept insisting that, you know, they wanted to occupy the compound and they wanted to do a protest message. You just can't do that.

And so they marched me out in front of the embassy. They have tied my hands behind my back and they started yelling ...

John Limbert is a fluent Farsi speaker.

He was speaking with them through the door. At some point it was decided that he spoke Farsi, he would come out there. And I think that probably last at 23 seconds -- I mean, if that and then they grabbed him.

LIMBERT: Al Golacinski had been taken and blindfolded, I saw there was gun to his head. And I just started talking to these people as I would have talked to perhaps an unruly group of students. I tried to put on this (inaudible) air of saying, "Look, what are you doing? What are you doing? What kind of action is this for educated people?"

In Persian, I'm going to say,

I used the word (inaudible). (inaudible) means disgrace. They weren't having any of it, they tied me up. They blindfold me, put a gun to my head and yelled through the door. If you don't open the door in five minutes, we're going to shot -- we'll shot both of these peoples.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ann Swift is a political counselor who was on the phone with Washington Crisis Center.

BOWEN: Ann Swift made the only decision that she could make which was to open the door and let the demonstrators in. You know, many Americans think that there are marines on the grounds, that they should have opened fire.

It would have been active suicide. And if things had gone differently, let's say for instance, one of the young marines had opened fire on demonstrators, they're very clearly could have been a bloodbath.

KUPKE: The order to surrender was given. So people lined up in the whole way.

LIMBERT: They captured everybody and then they took us out front door. There was a lot of smoke and gas in the building and I remember feeling good be in the fresh air and also feeling good we were still alive. Because the most dangerous part of this was at the time of this attack.

KUPKE: Two Iranians headed back to me, so I start -- well, I think woke up behind and move surrender. He says, "Where were you hiding? Tell us your work for the CIA."

And I muffled, "No, I'm not the CIA." And they snapped the gun, click and I look, and look, and look and look to my eyes, I thought it was going to lock in that position to see if there was a bullet was coming up and I couldn't see it.

You know, I just keep on myself, "Well it's not going to hurt, not going to hurt."

BOWEN: The demonstrators in Iran succeeded beyond their wildest hopes if their point was to sort of arouse, and anger, and insult the American people. The takeover of the embassy came as a surprise, then the display of hostages.

Individual hostages being freed in front of cameras with blindfolds on. These were images that were new to the American people. SICK: The people who launch the attack believed that what they were going to do was come in, takeover the embassy, make a statement about we wanted return the Shah, return his assets to Iran. And they figured that they would probably be there a day or a two, maybe three and then the government would say, "OK, fellows, that's enough. It's time to leave."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the Iranians burned an American flag in front of the embassy, they said the takeover had the express blessing of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

SICK: At the end of the first day or two, they suddenly discovered that the government -- (inaudible) was joining them and supporting their action, which they were surprised as anybody else and suddenly instead of having (inaudible) and a demonstration in the embassy, they were running a prison.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIMBERT: My message to them in those early hours was, you know, "OK you've done this. Now, what are you going to do?" Now you're responsible for our safety and security, so now you have a problem.

SICK: Early stages of this when the hostages were being held by these students who were completely out of control. I mean, they -- were not really equip to be guardians running a prison, taking care of prisoners and all.

KOOB: I keep hoping that it would blow -- well, not a few hours but hopefully within a couple of days. You know, that they would have their fun and they would make their point and that somebody would say, "Look, you know, this isn't the way we treat guest. This isn't the way we handle diplomacy."

BOWEN: It would be hard to over estimate the ignorance of the Iranian students who took over the embassy about the United States. And they anticipated that African-Americans for instance would rise up and support of their revolution against the authorities.

So the early decision to release the African-American hostages and the women was a gesture really to what they felt were their allies within the American public.

KOOB: They sent the other women home because they were at administering physicians but Ann and I were officers so therefore we spies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To certain extent the scene inside the grounds, because it continued to be orchestrated by the radical students themselves was very disorganized.

They were terribly emotional and threatened people with death. They took people outside to have fake executions. They didn't know that it was going to be fake.

GOLACINSKI: There was a very famous mock execution that took place. KUPKE: Two guys burst into our room with (inaudible) jackets on and black ski mask, automatic weapons, shouting on us to get up.

LIMBERT: They just came in about 2 in the morning. Masked, with weapons, came into where I was, I was by myself and said, "OK, get up."

KUPKE: They blindfolded us and then they bring us down at the basement hallway.

GOLACINSKI: And they grab us all out in the middle of the night and march us into another room, force us to strip down to our underwear and places up against the wall and then went through the cadence of a firing squad.

KUPKE: My one hope was I hope they hit dead center. I don't want them take me to the hospital. I'd rather be killed cleanly.

LIMBERT: I tried to rationalize things and said, "Well I've never do that down here because it's a enclosed base and there will be too many ricochets.

KUPKE: They give a word in Farsi, ready aim and fire and then they all -- they were a bunch of males, snap up off their weapons. That gives me the click and a snapped all at once when they give the word fire. And then all went (inaudible).

LIMBERT: They, you know, they're yelling and yelling and screaming and pushing us around. What they did it? What they were up to? I suspected that simply that thought, they did it because they could and they thought it would be fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd literally had no control over my life. They could have come in and done anything they wanted to and I would never have been able to have stop him.

KUPKE: We had no control or no say over what time we ate, when we drink, when you went -- could go to the bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a narrative among many Iranians today that we were treated well. That was simply not true. Some were bitten up, some -- all of us were pushed around. We were threatened. And some of the top CIA Officers like Bill Daugherty were probably given the worst treatment.

DAUGHERTY: One of my interrogators was a big Kurd (ph) and -- so at first the he pulled off this very heavy leather belt and started using it fairly, liberally. And then he brought out some plastic chord and wrapped it around my wrist until the circulation stop in my hand and they started swelling and become very sensitive. And he took a rubber hose and they laid the hand out like that and proceeded to start work on the hand with the rubber hose. I got to tell you that's probably the worst pain I'll every have in my life.

GOLACINSKI: For me the solitary confinement was probably one of the worst parts of captivity. It was quite frightening, to be very honest. At some point I decided that I was going to take my life. I was going to get down and a three point stands and I was going to run into the steel door that was there and with hopes that would kill me. At some point in all of these I think a voice of reason said you probably not going to be able to kill yourself.

KOOB: There was no end date. And that one of the things that made it very difficult. How long will this go on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In apparent attempt to eliminate fears of the American hostages are being mistreated Iran today release more film of the American captives.

GOLACINSKI: I also like to send the message to the American people and the people of the world. I'd like to thank all of them from the bottom of our heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ann and I keep busy everyday, we're reading and studying faithfully and I loved you all very much.

BOWDEN: What happen with the stand off Tehran is it became a nightly television event. Reporting from Washington Ted Koppel

Nightline began with Ted Koppel as a daily examination of the ongoing crisis in Tehran.

SICK: We were the place that people came to every night to get their update on the hostage crisis.

KOPPEL: Good evening this is a new broadcast.

Back then the fact that you could see the crowds chatting, you know, death to America, out in front of the U.S. Embassy.

And know that it was happening the very second that you were seeing it. Had an impact which is hard to measure in DNA when it becomes so much a part of who we're and what we are. Back then it was new, back then it was revolutionary.

FRANK REYNOLDS: Senator Edward Kennedy picks up some backing for his challenge to President Carter.

SICK: Jimmy Carter was running president, he was running for reelection during that the time with the time this all took place.

KOPPEL: Initially the White House had couple of briefings everyday. And after a few weeks the White House began to realize that they had made a major political error, in focusing as much attention on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: We hold the government of Iran fully responsible for the well being in the safe return of every single person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SICK: Carter would appear periodically in the Rose Garden outside the old office and make a statement about the hostages, what was going, what he was doing making clear that this was something that it was on his mind all the time.

KOPPEL: That played well here in the United States. But what that meant to the people who were holding the hostages was "Oh we've got the president of United States exactly where we want."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAUGHERTY: The Iranians tried to tell us that the Americans have forgotten about us. They didn't care about us or they were supporting the Iranians. That I didn't believe for a minute.

SICK: We had meetings. People began talking about our hostage rescue right after the back, is there something that could be done.

By the end of March it was pretty clear that all of the pressure that he brought to bare really wasn't working. The hostages were still there. And there was really very little more we could do even as super power sort of envision and we knew if we did that that hostages will get killed.

I began to see a little signal of things that were going on there were meetings at night that situation room that I hadn't heard anything about, it had a full scale meeting at the cabinet level. And had discussed this and had decided to go for rescue mission.

LT. COL. BUCKYBURRUSS, DELTA FORCE OFFICE U.S. ARMY,1979: As we began to develop more intelligence on the situation at the embassy were able to formulate a more deliberate plan of assault.

BOWDEN: All of the political efforts that failed and for the very first time the United States Army was telling we can do this. So it was only when this mission became remotely probable. And all other efforts that failed that he agreed to launch it.

BURRUSS: We where going to fly in on first special operation wing C- 130 into the location now known as dessert one. We would off load there, eight RH-53 helicopters from the USS Nimitz would fly in to that location and we would then depart dessert one for what was to be called dessert two, which was hide site to the northeast of Tehran in the mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It involves so many different pieces, so different units. So many things had to go right.

BURRUSS: We would then go into the embassy, clear the buildings and particularly the (inaudible), rescue the hostages, blow a hole in the wall take them over to stadium across the street whether we would have a security force.

BOWDEN: There was a landing zone that had been created in the middle of nowhere.

BURRUSS: When the helicopters finally showed up at dessert one. After having encounter this dust storm. One of them immediately reported that his aircraft is unserviceable.

BOWDEN: The White House called off the mission at that point because they couldn't have successfully carried it off with those few helicopters as they had.

BURRUSS: One of the helicopters was repositioning to get fuel from one of the fuel birds, when because of the dust of the landing zone the pilot apparently got vertigo, crashed into the cockpit of C130 and a horrible fireball occurred. Unfortunately we lost eight good men in the fire, no hope of getting to them in the middle of the desert there in this inferno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eight Americans, military men apparently have died in an aborted attempt to free all or at least some of the American hostages in Tehran.

BURRUSS: One of the most difficult things that we ever had to do, it was to leave those eight men behind. I think that more than anything else has affected me and the years since, is the fact that we couldn't get them out.

DAUGHERTY: I was given a copy of the German magazine Der Spiegel, there were photographs in there and diagrams of the rescue attempt. You could tell from the diagram that it had been a very risky attempt, it had been a very dangerous effort, it cost people's lives and that was a very saddening thing to realize. People actually died trying to give us back some freedom.

SICK: The rescue mission was a great disaster and you take risks like this. If you win, you look brilliant, and if you loose you look stupid and you just have to live with that.

CARTER: Our rescue team new and I knew that the operation was certain to be difficult and it was certain to be dangerous. We were all convinced that if and when, the rescue operation had been commenced that it had an excellent chance of success.

SICK: Jimmy Carter ended up looking very bad, and he had to face up to that, he had to deal with it. The Iranians were taken completely by surprise by the rescue mission, they had not expected it, they really didn't know it was coming and it was a huge shock to them. So they after it was over disbursed the hostages all over the country.

BOWEN: The failure of the rescue mission reinforced for the Iranian the divine nature of their cause. Here the most powerful military force in the world, had attempted a violent attack on Iran and they had been turned back, not by brave Iranian military forces but literally by the hand of God, who stirred the sandstorms in the desert and defeated the great Satan in his effort to attack.

BURRUSS: When I heard that the Ayatollah had gotten all this boost from this and that they were saying it was a divine intervention that occurred and that they had defeated America, I just wanted to go back in and kick their ass, but that wasn't an option at that stage.

SICK: That was a huge blow, it came right at the early stages of the presidential campaign but it was a very bad time.

CARTER: Are you and your family more secure after four years of Jimmy Carter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow voters from around the country will go to the polls and elect the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions of voters did turn out and Ronald Reagan won easily, in fact it was a landslide.

GOLACINSKI: I remember saying to the guards when they said that President Reagan was elected, I said, "Oh god, that guy is a cowboy, you know." "What do you mean?" "No, no he's a cowboy, this isn't good for you guys."

RONALD REAGAN, FRM PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't stand here tonight and say it doesn't hurt.

BOWEN: Carter's defeat was a victory for the Iranian revolution and I think the attitude was more like we'll deal with this next guy when he takes office but we won this round.

KOPPEL: They were genuinely concerned when Ronald Reagan was elected.

REAGAN: There's never been a more humbling moment in my life.

KOPPEL: That Reagan was a different deadly fish and that he really might use military force to get their hostages back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hostages are now beginning to their 356th day of captivity and conditions already stated for their release in food, unfreezing Iranian assets in the United States, return of the late Shah's money and the U.S. promise not to make any future claims against Iran as a result of the hostage crisis.

KOPPEL: The hostages were beginning to be perceived as a biblical liability. It wasn't a permanent kind of situation that could have been sustained.

DAUGHERTY: The Iranians were very tired of it and some of them actually had the audacity to complain. I wish you guys could go home because I haven't seen my brothers and sisters in three months. Of course our answer was always, well all you have to do is take us to the airport we'll be happy to leave.

SICK: We put sanctions on Iran, we took over their assets that were on deposit of $12 billion worth of economic assets. And from the Iranian point of view, they needed to get rid of this people. The hostages were killing them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negotiations to gain freedom for 52 American hostages in Iran continues to move forward.

BOWDEN: Negotiations took place in Algiers and they arranged to negotiate as the United States did through proxy nations so that they couldn't be accused of negotiating directly with the great Satan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have now reached agreement with Iran which will result, I believe in the freedom of our American hostages.

BOWDEN: They did actually resolve the crisis sometime in December but they waited for inauguration day in order to deprive Jimmy Carter of a final triumphant moment before he left office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only a matter of hours now before the 52 former American hostages will be getting up to begin the day they had been waiting for 14 months.

GOLACINSKI: They came in and they said, "Grab your stuff." We didn't have much stuff, boom, they just started taking out us. Blind folded mind you, took us out. I was put into a van with the two women who we had no idea were still there Anne Swift and Kate Koob.

KOOB: This was the first time we had been put in any situation with the men, we had always been separated whatever we did and before we could ask the questions, they said yes everybody is here and everybody is OK.

DAUGHERTY: From the time I was put into solitary and I was never with the others, a number of them I found out later, actually believed that I had been executed because nobody had seen or heard of me.

LIMBERT: Then they pushed us out and started, you know, yelling slogans in the end and I kept thinking to myself, you know, we're getting out of here, these poor bastards have to stay.

KOPPEL: I sense the transition of power in the United States, the fact that it had allowed them to engage in one last piece of theater by waiting until the very second quite literally, the minute that Jimmy Carter ceased to be president and Ronald Reagan raising his hand, became president of the United States, bingo, that's when the planes took off.

GOLACINSKI: Once we cleared Iranian airspace and the flight attendants, God bless them, broke out the champagne and we were just, you know, hugging and cheering and we just -- it's a blur.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had received word officially for the first time that the aircraft carrying the 52 American hostages had cleared the Iranian airspace on the first leg of a journey home and that everyone of the 52 hostages was alive, was well and free.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were flown to Tunisia and then flown to (inaudible).

GOLACINSKI: When we landed in Germany and we were received at the hospital in the middle of the night, just the crowd going wild and signs and everything.

BOWDEN: And I don't think that they probably fully believed that they had escaped from this until they landed in Germany and were being attended to by American military doctors. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Carter is flying to West Germany tomorrow, tomorrow morning that is to greet the 52 freed Americans.

KUPKE: We were told President Carter wanted to meet us, President Reagan gave President Carter the keys to air force one. So he flew to Germany as the former president and he talked with us and the hostages were split in their thinking. We were left hanging out there by our fingernails, when the Shah came in we could have closed in and sent people home. We could have not let the Shah for medical treatment.

DAUGHERTY: It was not a warm welcome, I don't think anybody was terribly disrespectful, I'm sure Mr. Carter felt the sentiment that had been expressed with, we told you this was going to happen.

KUPKE: One of the colonels, one of the military of Shahs walked around and he said, this is the President, he said, go out there and show him respect and so we all did.

SICK: Jimmy Carter when the time this was over, knew all the names, the family histories, he had met many of the family members, he was an expert on those hostages. And really it had become part of him.

CARTER: All Americans in Iran were mistreated much worse than has been previously revealed. The acts of barbarism which were perpetuated on our people by Iran can never be condoned.

KUPKE: What did we teach militant Islam 35 years ago? We taught them that you might be able to get away with this.

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SICK: The hostage crisis actually left an indelible mark on the American Psyche that that 444 days of bombardment of, you know, wild eyed fanatics waving their fist against America in Tehran and holding people hostage. There is nobody who let's say about the age of 10 at that time who doesn't remember that vividly and that had shaped their attitude toward Iran. We are going to have to get over that some day, so we're going to have to move beyond it.

LIMBERT: What no one foresaw was how this would change from a 1970s style student sit into a huge international incident would bring down a president that would push Iran onto a road to extremism, brutality and destruction and it would still cast its shadow 35 years later.

KUPKE: What did we teach militant Islam 35 years ago? We taught them that you might be able to get away with this.