tv Reel America A Hostage Report - 1981 CSPAN November 3, 2019 11:38am-12:01pm EST
promotion, first lieutenant lopez is now on duty in california. nick thompson has also been promoted. today, he is the deputy chief of mission in bangkok, thailand. he never forgot the help that cook gave to the six americans. he moved to the united states and then in 1985, his family was reunited in boston. finally, bruce langone, a former head of the u.s. embassy in tehran who warned his government ah, aftermit the sh his release he became the vice , president of the national defense university in washington. although now retired, he is the executive director of the national commission of public service. >> looking back, for the 52 of us on the 10th anniversary of the seizure of our embassy, it
is a time to remember the fact that eight americans are still hostage, denied of their freedom because of the threat of terrorism in the middle east. ♪ ["tie a yellow ribbon"] ♪ >> air force colonel thomas schaefer was the highest ranking military officer among 52 hostages who were held for 444 days in iran from november 4, 1979, to january 20, 1981.
colonel schaefer, who died in 2016 at the age of 85, was held in solitary confinement for more than three months. next on reel america, colonel schaefer's intelligence briefing for fellow air force officers after release, detailing his strategies for coping with the ordeal. >> the jubilation in these photographs was occasioned by the release of the 52 american hostages from iran. preceding that happy occasion, the 52 underwent over 14 months of anxiety, uncertainty, and fears as their day-to-day existence and fates were manipulated by the iranians. here to describe some of the events from those months is air force colonel thomas schaefer, the senior ranking military hostage who was performing duty
as defense attache at the time of the takeover. col. schaefer: thank you, claude. it is indeed a pleasure to be here today with you, for me to tell you about my experience, to share with you some of the major items that i have gone through to possibly help you in a future situation. either as a hostage or captive. you probably would ask, how does one cope with this type of experience? well, first of all, initially after it happened, as we were taken captive, i forgot, purposely, i forgot about how it happened. i got rid of that, accepted the
fact that i was a captive, and did not dwell on it. one must be disciplined in this type of a situation, in this environment, to establish a schedule purposely to take us p every hour of the day while you are awake. which means maybe a 12 to 14 -hour schedule. one must maintain the faith in his country and in his government, his or her government, that they are doing as much as possible to get you out. you probably are going to be told by your captives that the government doesn't care about you at all, and this was told to me many times. but never lose faith in the people back home.
in my case, being a christian, i maintained my faith in god. which included prayers every night, prayers every morning, very simple. i just asked my god to get me through the next 24 hours and thanked him for when i got through the previous 24 hours. you are going to find possibly that there are others who are not coping with the situation as well as you are. this gives you a chance to help a roommate or another buddy, to get him through this ordeal. and there were cases where i
helped other young men who had not been trained for this type of an ordeal. and also of course, it helps you get your mind off your own problems when you can help someone else. one must maintain his morale at an even level. you must realize that you are going to have ups and downs, probably every day. you are going to have depression s and you are going to have highs. what i found, if i allowed myself to get up on a real high, then i would drop down to a very deep low. so i would try to stabilize this curve. but i was never getting into a very deep depression nor was i getting up a little bit too high. it is just like a sine curve,
just keep it pretty much to the standard. one thing that helped my morale with two youngd marines. they understood the situation. but it was still a military environment to them. and when i got up to do my hiking, they got up with me. when we got down on the floor to do push-ups, they got down there with me going right along. and when the guards came in and saw this, they were very upset. that the marines were responding to my directions, which i had not given. they thought i had demanded that these young fellows do the exercises. they were calling me sir. and this upset the guards. they said he is not even a colonel any longer, and you don't have to call him sir.
but they maintained the military discipline throughout the entire period. and i think it helped their morale and it helped mine. we never got out of the military environment. during these types of situations, you are trying to get a wide variety of food. and you will find that this is not the time to be picky about what you are going to eat. you should maintain, as far as possible, a normal eating habit, of eating what you are served. in this environment, i found everything they gave us was nutritious. the iranian food, as bad as it looked sometimes, was nutritious. so we did, most of us, eat everything that was served to us.
most of us went through interrogations. in my case, for about two weeks. i think everyone should anticipate that they will be interrogated if they are taken captive. now, the interrogators were quite interested in my contact with the iranians. the iranian officers in the air force and the other military services, the civilians that would come to my house. they were very interested in my job because they had no idea of the function, the duties, that go on in an embassy. they considered us all spies.
a few things you can do during an interrogation that those of you who have already been to a survival school already know, you can act dumb, don't understand the question, lose your memory, and i found that to be very effective. especially when they are after identification of iranians. where i could conveniently say that i could not remember their names. and they accepted this. quite often. they may hone in on one subject that may not seem important to you. but they may have some facts that you know are true that you do not want to admit to. so, i would deny it.
until at such time they would bring a document to me and say look, you have signed this. well, then you can change your approach. but up until that time, you can deny any charges or facts that they bring up. i found what was effective was steering the conversation away from their questions. to get off on a tangent and even take 30 to 40 minutes of discussing something that had nothing at all to do with the question. and surprisingly enough, this worked. also, i would try to maintain control of the interrogation. there are several ways. when there are two interrogators, they will bring in two chairs. i always found the highest chair, for some reason, they
would bring in a draftsman's chair and i would get in that chair and i would be talking down to them. with my finger. you can control it. surprisingly enough. take charge, if you can, get off the subject when you can, deny everything you can, and in that way, control the interrogation. one thing i have found that helped me was to maintain my humor. find a humorous situation, each day, if you can. and we would do this. there are several examples. one was when we went into our latrines, we found they had put up television cameras. that is a little peculiar. but i accepted that fact.
i said, what can i do to humor myself in the situation? one day, i walked in and i looked up and saw that the red light was on the television camera. i got my watch, pulled out the stem, i didn't give a direct look at that, i glanced at it. i thought, oh, i think they are on. i got my watch and pulled out and started to put it back in, put it up to my ear and went -- pulled the stem back out, talked more into my watch and then i purposely glanced at the television camera and did a double take and did my arm and got out of there as fast as i could. it truly was not an academy award performance. but they were not monitoring the cameras that day. it was all for naught, except for the fact that it was very humorous for me and we got a
kick out of this when we talked about this with other hostages. we were exercising each day. part of that exercise was yoga. in yoga, if you have ever done lionf it, there is a position where you get on the floor on your hands and knees, and you make a horrible face. we would wait sometimes, until the guards would come in, and then all four of us would be sitting on the floor and give this horrible lion expression. they did not know how to handle it. and they quickly walked out. it was very minor but kind of humorous to us at the time. we would harass the guards as much as we could. especially on putting television into our latrine. by saying, we know what you want to do, you want to look at it.
of course, that made them feel a little bit ashamed. but it made us feel good that we could get to them. we took advantage of the fact that they were muslims, and good muslims do not lie or tell stories. and we took advantage of the fact that they did lie to us and we would tell them, you are not good muslims because you have lied to us. and that would get to them because they were trying to show that they were good followers of muhammadan -- mohammed. these are just a few things that you can do. what i thought now, i would open it up for questions because there may be thoughts in your minds. some area i have not covered that you would be interested in. are there any questions? >> colonel schaefer, during your captivity, the iranian
government frequently threatened to put the hostages on trial for espionage. were these threats made to you personally and how did you react to them? col. schaefer: yes, they told me i was a spy. that i would go on trial as a spy. now, i did have one advantage. i had several months to think about this before i got interrogated. why they waited, i don't know. but i felt that they would come out initially and say i was a spy and then say i would be put up on trial as a spy. so it didn't bother me when they told me that -- and threatened me many times, you are going to go on trial. so, i had prepared for that and i had also prepared myself for what i would do. how i would conduct myself if there was a trial. there again would have been saying very little, not
admitting to anything. other than name, rank, and serial number if you can get away with that. i cannot say that it didn't bother me because it did bother me a little bit. but i would have been prepared for the trial. i never had the feeling that they would have shot us because of the trial. that they did threaten it continually, i think, was just used to get me to talk more. another question? >> colonel schaefer, were you able to communicate with your fellow hostages individually or in groups? col. schaefer: yes, that's a good question. we did maintain good communications with each other. i don't know how many months after we were taken captive, but it could not have been more than
a couple, where we picked up the tap code. which came of good use to us because the iranian walls are about six to 10 inches thick and you cannot use a morse code. so, the tap code was very beneficial for us to communicate with people in the next room. it is a very easy code to use. and when you are in isolation, you can always talk to the guy next door. another means is just a simple another means is just a simple writing of a note and dropping it somewhere where another captive will see it. we would use the latrines, or the television room, and then hide it when we thought other people might look. as a matter of fact, i would even write on the toilet paper a
note, realizing that probably the next guy in would be an american and he could pick it right off right away. that proved to be of some help because some guys did respond. also, we could in certain rooms talk to each other through common windows, or even, in one room, we could push out the glass to hand notes to each other or to talk through the crack. we did communicate quite well. and major events that came up were passed around pretty fast so that we all knew pretty much what was going on all the time, even though we were in isolation. any other questions? >> were you placed in solitary confinement during the time of your captivity? and if so, could you explain to us how you coped with that period of solitary confinement?
col. schaefer: yes, i was placed in solitary confinement for about three and a half months. and that is not as bad as it sounds if you can maintain self-discipline. i would keep myself busy every waking hour that i had. what you can do, if you do not have reading materials, books or your bible or magazines. you can make up games. now it just happened, one time when i was in solitary, it was during the olympics. so i produced my own olympic games. did not amount to much but i was able to have three or four games and i had competitions.
and it took up a lot of time. i remember in one room when i had nothing, no book, no mattress pad or anything, just a bare floor, i made up some balls from toilet paper and took some thread off my clothes and made up a little game where i could roll the balls up against the wall. this really shook up the guards. the guards said look at the colonel on the floor. to me, it was humorous. it did take up time, keeping score. another thing is when i was walking six miles a day, 160 laps per mile, i would fantasize or go through an actual hike that i took with my kids in yosemite. and i was finding that my hikes during captivity were longer than the actual hikes i took. because you stop at every rock
and flower and bend. it just took that much longer. you may want to build a boat, just go through every step, drawing up blueprints. or if you have any musical you can sing or whistle home. i had songs i could sing. many times i was told to shut up or be quiet, but i would keep up the singing. maybe at a lower level but trying to remember words to songs is good. it is a good mental exercise. to main thing was trying keep myself busy for the entire time. you can do it. i only have time for one more question. do you feel the