A NOTE OF URGENCY
Combined News Services
Tehran, Iran (Nov. 4, 1979)—A mob of Iranian students overran U.S. Marine guards in a three-hour struggle Sunday and invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, seizing American staff members and some Iranian employees as hostages, Tehran Radio reported. They demanded that the United States send the exiled shah back to Iran for trial, the radio said.
No serious injuries were reported. Tehran Radio said as many as 100 hostages were being held, but an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said he believed there were 35 Americans and seven or eight Iranians.
The spokesman, reached in Tehran by telephone from New York, said an estimated 200 or 300 students were involved. Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 11, 1979 It was a little after 10:00 on a bright fall night. I was turning into my driveway, returning home after dinner, when I spotted the note taped on the garage door. My heart gave a little skip. I wasn’t used to having notes stuck on my garage door. It’s sort of like telegrams; it has to be bad news.
I left the headlights on while I got out of the car to see what it was.
“Urgent. Contact Lee Hess . . .” And it gave a phone number that I recognized as Pentagon. The note was signed by Major Doug Brazil, an AC-130 gunship pilot who had served with me in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
I rushed into the house and gave Doug a call to let him know I’d gotten the note and find out if he knew what it was about. He said he didn’t, but that Lee was serious about the urgency and wanted me to call no matter what the time was.
I couldn’t suppress my excitement as I dialed the Pentagon number. This obviously wasn’t a social call. Not at that time of night . . . and from the Pentagon. Something was up. A voice answered and stated the number I had just dialed, a practice I was familiar with in the Special Operations business.
“This is Colonel Kyle calling for Major Lee Hess.”
“Wait one,” the voice said.
Lee had been a Special Operations protégé of mine back at Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) headquarters in the mid-’70s, and I knew he was still in “the business,” now on the Air Staff. I hadn’t heard from him, except for Christmas cards, for several years.
Since it was after midnight in Washington, I was certain that Lee had something pretty hot to tell me.
“Kimo. Is that you?”
“Kimo” is “Jim” in Hawaiian, and Lee and his wife, Ginny, had always called me that.
“Major General Bob Taylor wants you here—like yesterday. How soon can you make it?”
“Are you shittin’ me, Lee? What’s he want me for?”
“This is no joke. It’s urgent. I can’t tell you anything more than I already have. Just get here—and fast.”
Now I was really cranked up. The tone of his voice told me that this was serious business.
I told him I’d start calling airlines and would get back to him as soon as I had something, but it wouldn’t be easy at that time of night.
He rogered that and we broke off so I could get moving.
As I was calling, I thought about Major General Bob Taylor. I had known him back at PACAF in the mid-’70s, when he was director of plans. I had worked a couple of projects with his staff and had come to know him as a tough taskmaster.
But the burning question was, what the hell did he want with me? I hadn’t seen him in years and had no idea what his job was in the Pentagon.
I finally found a ticket office open and got a booking on a 3:30 a.m. flight, due to arrive at Washington National Airport at 10:30 Monday.
I called Lee back, and he said, “When you get to Washington, take a cab to the Pentagon River Entrance. Go to the guard post and call this number, and I’ll come and get you.”
His final words were: “Bring enough clothes to last you for a while . . . and don’t worry, it’s for real.”
I was left with a dial tone and that old familiar knot in my stomach that always showed up when I was heading into the unknown. I thought, I hope my boss buys this story.
Meanwhile, my thoughts were racing.
I had just been assigned to the Kirtland Air Force Base resource management shop of the 1606th Air Base Wing, which provides planning, supply, transportation, finance, and accounting support to some 140 tenant organizations representing all services. Pretty tame stuff after the previous ten years in Special Operations. But then, the Air Force had a hard time finding places for us “snake eaters,” especially after the end of the Vietnam War. There just weren’t that many jobs for all the colonels in that career field.
So here I was . . . in Albuquerque. My wife, Eunice, had stayed in Honolulu, our permanent home, and kept her civilian job with the Air Force. I was on what the Air Force calls an unaccompanied tour, living off base, and had just gotten settled in a house I was attempting to buy.
What is this all about?
I had my suspicions. It had been just a week since radical militants in Iran had taken over our embassy in Tehran, and they were holding a lot of Americans hostage. The country was in an uproar, and I knew there had to be extensive activity in the Pentagon planning rooms over this one. Something had to be done. These people were telling us to take international law and stick it in our ear. I suspected that Special Operations considerations would be high on our list and that somehow this late-night summons was connected.
But I won’t know until I get there.
I packed a garment bag and a shoulder bag with mostly summer wear, since that was about all I had. The New Mexico weather had been just right for my Hawaii garb.
Now I was dialing Jack Sheppard, the wing commander, with a wild story and very little detail. And, to make matters worse, it was almost midnight and I was probably waking him up.
A sleepy voice answered, “Colonel Sheppard.”
“Sir, this is Jim Kyle. Sorry to bother you at this hour, but I have just been directed by a general officer in the Pentagon to report there immediately for special duty.”
I assured him that I knew the officer who had relayed the message and that it was for real.
I told him I was sorry I couldn’t tell him more, but he knew everything I did.
He didn’t hesitate. “Get going and let me know more when you get there—if you can.”
Before I rang off, I said, “Boss, don’t tell anybody where I’ve gone. Just say I’m on a special project—nothing else.”
Meanwhile, I had one more tough phone call to make. What in God’s name was I going to tell Eunice?
As I was dialing Honolulu, I was thinking that no way would she be fooled by some cock-and-bull story. So I made up my mind to tell her all I knew. After all, she had worked for the Air Force for twenty-five years, had a top secret clearance, and knew full well how to deal with sensitive information.
It was still early Sunday evening in Hawaii when she picked up the phone.
“Hi. It’s me. Your long-distance roommate. This is going to sound crazy. . . .”
I told her about the phone conversation with Lee Hess, whom she knew well, and of General Taylor’s request for my presence first thing Monday morning. Eunice also knew the general from his time at PACAF, where she worked. When all was said and done, she knew what I knew. Better plans would have to wait until I could get settled in Washington.
We also talked about the financial arrangements on the house, now in...