25 Years Later We Still Remember
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2005 - America today honored eight
American servicemen who died trying to rescue American
hostages in Iran 25 years ago.
A ceremony here, on the 25th anniversary of their deaths,
brought together the families of those killed, their
comrades and those servicemembers who carry on the special
In November 1979 Iranian militants took 53 Americans in the
U.S. Embassy in Tehran hostage. It was the most egregious
violation of the principles of diplomacy in the history of
statecraft, L. Bruce Laingen, the highest-ranking American
taken hostage, said at todayâ€™s ceremony.
On April 25, 1980, the rescue attempt, dubbed "Operation
Eagle Claw," came to a flaming end on the floor of the desert
near Tehran. Eight Americans -- five airmen and three
Marines -- were killed when the rotor of a helicopter sliced
into the fuselage of a C-130 transport aircraft.
The eight killed in the failed rescue attempt were: Air
Force Maj. Richard L. Bakke, Marine Sgt. John D. Harvey,
Marine Cpl. George N. Holmes Jr., Marine Staff Sgt. Dewey L.
Johnson, Air Force Maj. Harold L. Lewis, Air Force Tech. Sgt.
Joel C. Mayo, Air Force Maj. Lyn D. McIntosh and Air Force
Capt. Charles T. McMillan II.
Todayâ€™s ceremony, sponsored by the White House Commission
on Remembrance, also brought together 10 of the hostages.
The hostages were finally released by the Iranians after 444
days in captivity.
There was sadness at the ceremony, but there was also
admiration for the courage the men showed and the knowledge that
out of the fires of Desert One -- as the site in Iran was
known -- came the impetus for a new, stronger, more
integrated military and special operations force.
Air Force Lt. Gen Norton Schwartz, director of the Joint
Staff, called the failure of the Iran hostage rescue mission
a seminal event in recent American military history. He
said the mission was â€œso important that the nationâ€™s
self-image, itâ€™s standing and reputation in the world community, and
the fate of a presidency hung in the balance.â€�
When the mission failed, media reports were full of
recriminations, and nations around the world called the United
States a toothless lion. â€œYet at the same time, the memory of
Desert One propelled a generation, of which I am a part, to
assure that America would never again repeat that searing,
transforming experience of the 25th of April 1980,â€�
â€œNever again would we be so unprepared, so ill-equipped, so
entirely dependent on the skills, resourcefulness of our
people, who, despite shortcomings in force cohesion,
equipment and external support, lifted off into the darkness with
only one mission imperative: bring Americans home,â€� he said.
Schwartz said the often-maligned heroes of that mission
lifted off from the deck of the USS Nimitz with the
â€œconviction that completing the mission served interests far larger
than themselves, at a moment in time when the nationâ€™s
reputation and American lives truly hung in the balance.â€�
The general said that all Americans share the grief of the
families who lost loved ones that day. But they died
trying, Schwartz said. They kept the promise. â€œBecause on that
murky night, when they faced Americaâ€™s adversary and their
own fears, your men did not submit,â€� Schwartz told the
families. â€œThey did not retire. They didnâ€™t then, and we, their
successors -- in large measure in their honor -- do not and
will not now.â€�
Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin was one of the would-be
rescuers that day. He said that accident â€œwas the greatest
disappointment of my professional career because we didnâ€™t bring
home 53 Americans.â€�
Now principle deputy undersecretary of defense for
intelligence and warfighter support in the Pentagon, Boykin also
called the mission one of the proudest moments of his career.
He said all the men in the rescue effort knew the risks.
â€œNone of us wanted to die; none of us expected to die, but we
knew the risk,â€� Boykin said. â€œWe knew that we were up
against an entire nation with a force of barely 100 people.â€�
Thomas Oâ€™Connell, assistant secretary of defense for
special operations and low-intensity combat, said the sacrifices
of those eight men were not in vain. Special operations
forces have been in the forefront of the fight against
â€œIf you need inspiration in these tough days, give thanks
for those who risked and gave all on this mission, but also
give thanks for those who survived and made great strides
for our national security,â€� Oâ€™Connell said.