Since Argo won best picture on Sunday night’s Academy Awards, I’ve been thinking about Colonel Leland James Holland. He wasn’t rescued; he was one of the 52 held for 444 days in Tehran.
Col. Holland was a native of Scales Mound, Illinois, a town of less than 350 people. For anyone who regularly reads my posts, you may remember that my mother, maternal grandparents and great-grandparents also hail from Scales Mound. During the hostage crisis, I was in grade school at Platteville, Wisconsin; I remember the never-ending count of days which occurred on the news every night. Day 58… Day 96… Day 167…. Day 242… Day 312… Day 429… Every day until the hostages were released.
I have no idea if any of my relatives knew Col. Holland. My grandmother graduated in 1940, so perhaps she knew of him. Much more likely is that my grandparents knew the family, in general, since they were farmers.
Col. Holland was born 02 August 1927, and graduated from Scales Mound High School in 1945. He was one of 19 graduates that year. Holland enlisted in the Army, and became a career military officer with service in Korea and two tours in Vietnam. In 1978, he was assigned to the embassy in Tehran as army attaché. On 04 November 1979, Iranian militants stormed the embassy, and took hostages, 52 of whom weren’t released until Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on 20 January 1981.
In an interview published in the Rockford Register Star (Rockford, IL) a year after he was freed, Col. Holland discussed his captivity. “There were threats – and threats – and more threats and more threats… The first time they put a gun to my head I was scared. But after the second, third and fourth times, I just told them to pull the trigger if they were going to and to leave me alone if they weren’t.” (1)
In the same interview, Col. Holland said “It has been a hectic year, dashing all over the country for guest appearances and reliving those days… I’ve shook the hands of two presidents, got season tickets to the baseball games, been on national television, talked to the national press, been offered free trips, free food and free booze. But the best thing that happened to me in all that time was last February when I finally made it back home. I’ll never forget the thousands of yellow ribbons and the cheering of the school kids as I came back to my hills. The way that little town [Scales Mound] welcomed me back means more than anything that’s happened to me. It’s my fondest memory. It’s the one thing I’ll never forget.” Read full Rockford Register Star interview (PDF).
Col. Holland was a husband and father of six children. Nine years after his release, Holland died of prostate cancer on 02 October 1990 in Washington D.C., with burial at Arlington National Cemetery. His military decorations included the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.
ArlingtonCemetery.net interviewed his daughter, Barb Holland, in 2004, and she spoke of how the family was stunned when every surviving hostage attended his funeral. “One by one, they would come up to me and tell me how much he had meant to them while they were imprisoned. They’d say that he was their teacher, the one who taught them Morse code, taught them how to pass messages from cell to cell, taught them how to cope. They loved him.” (2)
Which takes me back to Argo. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s on my list of movies to watch. And please remember that while Argo gets accolades, we mustn’t forget those that endured captivity and have never received reparations for their ordeal.
The National Journal has a very interesting article about the hostages, reparations, and how the ordeal affected families. (It starts with Leland’s son John remembering his father; scroll down the page to listen to John talk about his father’s ordeal.)
(1) Mooney, M. (1982, January 17). Former Iranian hostage marks a year of freedom. Rockford Register Star, pp. A1, A5.
(2) Arlington National Cemetery. (2004, October 30). Captive’s family recounts ordeal. Retrieved from http://arlingtoncemetery.net/ljholland.htm