For many Americans, the Iranian Hostage Crisis brings back images of blindfolded hostages on the TV news. But Kevin Hermening, a registered rep and fee-based planner with First Financial Planners in Wausau, Wis., remembers the gut-wrenching experience from the other side of the television camera.
Hermening was a 20-year-old Marine Corps guard stationed at the American Embassy in Tehran when a group of Iranian militants stormed the 27-acre compound Nov. 4, 1979. On that day, he earned a designation that changed his life: He was the youngest of 52 American hostages held captive in Iran for 444 exhausting days.
“Over the course of the entire 444 days, I was outside in the fresh air and sunshine for a whopping two hours,” Hermening says. As a result, he now spends as much time as possible outdoors. “When you're denied that for 14 and a half months, it really becomes important.”
During his captivity, Hermening was shuttled among residential buildings in the embassy compound, a maximum-security prison in downtown Tehran and an abandoned house in northeastern Iran. He spent most of his time sleeping, as much as 20 hours a day, in an attempt to escape the reality of his situation.
In early 1980 while at the abandoned house, he tried to escape. But those plans were thwarted when suspicious guards searched his room and discovered cash, a road map, telephone numbers and extra clothes he had stashed. He spent the following 43 days in solitary confinement.
Kevin Hermening celebrated his 21st birthday as a hostage in Iran two decades ago. “I have a much greater appreciation for freedom and our country,” he says.
“The only thing in that room was a box spring with no mattress,” he remembers. At first, he handled the isolation fairly well. “After all, I was a 20-year-old Marine. I was invincible,” he says. “But after 40 days of wondering, ‘Has the situation ended? Am I the last one here?’ it started to wear on my mind, my soul and my body.”
Unknown to Hermening at the time, the United States launched an unsuccessful attempt to rescue him and the other hostages on April 24, 1980. Nine American soldiers died during the attempt when their helicopters crashed in a blinding sandstorm.
“We have been referred to as heroes,” Hermening says. “The real heroes were the nine servicemen who gave their lives trying to set us free. They and their families are the ones who paid the ultimate price. We were the lucky ones. We got out.”
Hermening's last few weeks of imprisonment were spent in a swanky hotel in Tehran. “That was an effort to make us forget all the bad stuff that happened,” he says, with a laugh.
The Iranian Hostage Crisis ended Jan. 20, 1981, the same day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president.
“The American people can be assured that the Americans who were held hostage in Iran represented them well,” Hermening says. “They stood up for what was right, and they didn't let anyone down.”