A group of Iranian students seized control of the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. Fifty-two Americans were taken hostage. The Iran hostage crisis lasted 444 days, toppling Jimmy Carter’s presidency and resulting in the deaths of eight American servicemen during a failed rescue mission called Operation Eagle Claw.
Ida Dengrove took a personal interest in the crisis. She’d met the Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution, while waiting for a flight from Kabul in 1976. She sketched him, showed him her work, and he smiled and asked for the drawing. They conversed, and Khomeni offered to pose with Dengrove for a photograph. Dengrove found him “kindly . . . soft-spoken.”
After the embassy was overthrown, Dengrove wrote to Khomeni, enclosing their photograph in a letter that said, in part, “. . . Fate plays strange tricks, and I could not believe that the most charming gentleman I’d met with the sad eyes . . . could be you. When you asked me where I was from, you seemed so cordial when I said the United States of America . . . Let every mother’s son return. Let there be peace.” Khomeni didn’t answer.
In December 1979, NBC News sent Dengrove to The Hague, where U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti was scheduled to appear before the International Court of Justice to make a plea for the release of the American hostages. Dengrove wrote, “Directly in front of me stood an empty table reserved for Iran, which failed to send a representative to argue its case.”