Army Col. Leland Holland would sometimes talk about his 444-day hostage ordeal in Iran “like it was a good old fish story,” says his son, John. But other times, recalling how he was beaten with rubber hoses and telephone books, he’d get angry. The memory of picking a lock with a paper clip, making his way to the roof, and breathing fresh air could bring him to tears. Three times after he retired from active duty, his family found him kneeling in the corner of the basement, face to the wall, hands clasped together over his head as if handcuffed, reliving in his nightmares the ordeal of being interrogated.
Ben Affleck’s celebrated film, Argo, has spotlighted a desperate CIA scheme that enabled six U.S. Embassy employees to escape post-revolutionary Iran disguised as a Canadian film crew. Holland was part of a far less fortunate group, the 52 Americans who didn’t make it out of the embassy when militants stormed it on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held hostage for 444 days.
Argo has been showered with honors, topped by a best-picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. There’s no dispute that it is historically inaccurate and ignores a larger tragedy to focus on a tiny sliver of success associated with a humiliating chapter in the nation’s history. But give Argo its due. The film is serving to remind the country of a time, a place, and a debacle at what could be a pivotal moment in the history of the Iranian hostage crisis.
The former hostages and their advocates are mobilizing for a Capitol Hill push that they hope will be the final chapter in a 33-year quest for relief and for justice. In a few weeks, members of Congress will receive a packet of information that includes powerful statements and videos from the former hostages and their survivors. Some will be telling their stories publicly for the first time.