A couple of years ago I wrote about Colonel Leland James Holland, a native of Scales Mound, Illinois, and where many of my relatives live(d). Col. Holland was one of the Americans taken hostage in Iran in 1979.
A few days ago I was reading the New York Times and saw an article stating that after 36 years the Americans (or their estates) held hostage in Tehran are to receive compensation for their ordeal. Some will receive up to $4.4 million.
I was surprised by the vitriol in the comments section against the families in receiving compensation. There were the two main arguments against:
Since most of the hostages were part of the military and diplomatic service, they knew what they signed up for. (Really? Did the majority of those working in Foreign Service in 1979 worry about being psychologically and physically tortured as part of the job description? I doubt it.)
They don’t deserve compensation because other people who’ve suffered terribly haven’t received compensation for their ordeals. (What kind of logic is this? If we can’t compensate everyone, no one should get it?)
It was disappointing to read all the negative comments. I shake my head in disbelief that so many people share these attitudes. Maybe it’s the amount of money. Personally, I’m extremely skeptical that any of the hostages or their estates will receive the full amount. It’s a pittance for what they endured. They and their families were irrevocably changed. The country was changed. Why begrudge them this money?
An article in the National Journal in 2013 discussed the fight for reparations. Unfortunately, the video clips interviewing some of the surviving hostages and family members are no longer accessible. These clips were informative. The article provides perspective of this fight, which I think is important.
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.
(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