by Jim Emmons
In 1979, I had been in the U.S Air Force about six years, and stationed five months at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. I was a ground radio operator, normally a very boring job.
That changed 11 February, when we received a call from the U.S. European Command Operations Center (ECOC). Problems in Iran necessitated that we change one radio to a common frequency and “help”. Thus began a month of 16-hour shifts, six days on, one-half day off. Remember, this was before the “Iran Hostage Crisis”, before Americans were targets, and before cell phones and satellite communication.
Early one afternoon, a ham radio operator in Teheran broke into our radio traffic, difficult to do with so much information flowing over this single frequency. “Bill” was a State Department employee with radio equipment in his apartment. He had already sent his wife and children back to the States for safety.
Bill said calmly that the new Iranian Revolutionary Guard were coming to his apartment building for Americans, arriving “soon”. Their intent, as relayed to him by his Muslim neighbors, was to take Americans to the Secret Police headquarters and shoot them.
He asked us to call his wife and let her know that his last thoughts were of her and their children. He gave his name, his wife’s name, phone number, and address. Then Bill said that he thought he heard the Guard coming up the stairs, so he must sign off. As he did, several people came on the air and wished him good luck.
I relayed the message to the ECOC and the National Military Command Center in Washington, D.C. Each said they’d take care of it.
For about five minutes, there was dead silence on the air. Then back to business as usual, handling radio traffic from many officials in Iran needing to transmit messages. We didn’t forget Bill, but we had business to conduct that would, we hoped, save other people’s lives.
An hour after he signed off, Bill called again to tell us what had happened. Dead silence from all the other stations.
While the Revolutionary Guard came up to Bill’s floor, he signed off and hid the radio under his bed, still plugged in, still hot. When the two Guards came into his apartment, they beat him with their fists and rifle butts. They searched the apartment, but just as they neared the bedroom, his Muslim next-door neighbors came in and started haranguing the Guards.
They shouted in Farsi that this was a good man. Why were they bothering him? The Guards threatened to take the neighbors out and shoot them for helping an American. The neighbors kept insisting that Bill was good, to leave him alone. After a few minutes, the Guards gave up, gave Bill a few extra whacks with their rifles, and left.
Two languages. Two religions. Two countries. And one group of brave people who were willing to risk their lives to save one man.