By Dana Beyerle
After reading the Associated Press interview with Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the Iranian revolutionaries-cum students who took over the American embassy in Tehran during the Marxist revolution following the Shah’s downfall, I couldn’t believe it had been 40 years since that Nov. 4 day.
United Press International on Monday looked back at the embassy takeover on Monday’s 40th anniversary and Iran’s continued hostile relationship with the West:
“In Tehran, students and activists gathered outside the former U.S. Embassy, where on Nov. 4, 1979, a group of students stormed the building and took dozens of U.S. State Department workers hostage. The move was a show of defiance against U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
“The student protesters loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stormed the embassy to demand the United States return Pahlavi — who Washington had taken in — to Iran for trial and possible execution.”
Back in November 1979, I was a relatively new reporter at the Decatur Daily. I heard a report by a local radio station report from somewhere on the embassy takeover. Heck I figured, I can do that. After a few trials and errors late one night, I hooked up with the Semiramis Hotel near the embassy gate. My memory is hazy now, but someone either from AT&T or the government got the name of the hotel. I recall it took permission from AT&T to call the hotel.
I think someone was listening in since I was told the hotel was the revolution’s headquarters. Anyway, I was talking to the desk clerk. He spoke English! After a couple of minutes he asked if I was a journalist and when I said, “yes,” he handed the phone to someone else who started spouting the revolutionary line.
I filed a story and the newspaper powers-that-be worried about the cost. I had worked at the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune and didn’t realize there was a prohibition against calling anywhere to get a story. (At UPI when George Wallace was governor, I once called a hotel in the middle of China trying to track down a source for a story. The Chinese desk clerk spoke English – it would be like someone at a Nebraska Holiday Inn speaking Mandarin to a Chinese journalist.)
The Iran story ran in classified backup so our newspaper money guy wouldn’t see it. The phone call was only $60. I don’t remember if the story was picked up by the wire services in Alabama. The boss started calling me “Iran.” When I left the Daily, he gave me a framed copy of the story on which he had written, “It should have been on A-1.” I prize it.
As far as I know, no other Alabama journalist did an embassy attack story, although I could be wrong. So, after reading Ashharzadeh’s AP interview, I wondered if the “student” revolutionary I talked to 40 years ago could have been him. How time flies.
The embassy takeover lasted 444 days, with 66 hostages remaining the entire ordeal. But that was another story for someone else.
– Dana Beyerle is a retired newspaper reporter who worked during five decades in Florida and Alabama, including 26 years in Montgomery covering politics for UPI, the Gadsden Times, TimesDaily in Florence, and the Tuscaloosa News. Beyerle was on the staff of the Tuscaloosa News and contributed to stories of the 2011 deadly tornadoes, newspaper reports which earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. He is also the former director of communications for the Business Council of Alabama.