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Lt. Cmdr. Robert A. Engelmann, SC, USN

April 20, 2013 | By SCNEWSLTR
VIRIN: 130422-N-ZZ219-0651
] LCDR Robert Engelmann was serving in a temporary capacity as Chief, Navy Section, at the embassy, and he was scheduled to return to the United States the week after the Iranian students had stormed, taken over, and trashed the compound in November 1979.  He resumed his Supply Corps career in January 1981, when he was released after nearly 15 months in captivity.  LCDR Engelmann was born in Pasadena, Calif., in September 1946, the son of an Air Force officer.  He spent much of the next 15 years in the San Antonio area.  Bob Engelmann was graduated from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, with a degree in psychology in 1968.  He preferred to be an officer in the Navy to being drafted into the Army and was accepted for Navy Officer Candidate School.  After completing a year of graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook, he entered OCS in the fall of 1969.  He was commissioned a Navy Reserve line ensign in December 1969.  He was assigned two consecutive tours of duty in diesel submarines.  USS Dogfish (SS 350) and USS Jallao (SS 368), both of which he helped decommission before sale to foreign navies.  He then augmented to the Regular Navy and transferred to the Supply Corps.  He reported to NSCS Athens in the fall of 1974 as a lieutenant and was graduated as a line officer because the XO of Jallao failed to complete some of the paperwork necessary for his transfer from line to staff.  His first orders to duty in USS Caloosahatchee (AOJ 98) were amended to instruct the oiler to use him as a supply officer.  His transfer to the Supply Corps came through in early 1975.  He reported to the Navy International Logistics Control Office (NAVILCO), at Bayonne, N.J. in April 1977.  When NAVILCO moved to Philadelphia in early 1978, he became Iranian project officer.  He next received orders as supply officer and comptroller for the Ship Rework Facility Subic Bay.  His household goods had already been shipped to the Philippines when he was sent to Iran on TAD orders to fill in as chief of the Supply Section, MAAG Tehran, in May 1979.  LCDR Engelmann was to leave Iran in September, when a permanent relief would report in.  The relief had been designated, but Engelmann suggested that he be authorized to delay long enough to spend some time at NAVILCO and take a Defense Department course in basic Farci before coming to Iran.  Bob Engelmann has been unable to speak Farci when he arrived in Tehran and says that if an English-speaking embassy driver had not met him, “I’d probably still be trying to figure out how to get out of the airport.”  His recommendation was the reason that he was still Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979.  LCDR Engelmann had an apartment a little north of the embassy and worked in the Chancellory Building in the embassy compound.  When the demonstrators invaded the embassy, Engelmann and other U.S. military personnel sought refuge in the communications vault, where they planned to destroy all classified materials and sensitive electronic equipment.  The revolutionaries threatened to kill the embassy security officer, and Acting Ambassador Bruce Laingen advised the Americans in the vault to surrender.  As LCDR Engelmann recalls the event, “Not much got destroyed, but the Ambassador’s safe wasn’t even touched.  The Defense AttachĂ©’s officer, which had 13 or 14 big locked file cabinets full of confidential material, was down on the first floor and never brought up.  So, we didn’t really accomplish all that much in the way of maintaining security or destroying classified material.  Now we know.”  Being the last to surrender, the group was suspected of being CIA spies, and was roughed up.  The revolutionaries feared an American rescue attempt such as the Israelis had pulled off at Entebbe, so Engelmann and nine others were dumped into the trunks of cars and taken to a safe house in northern Tehran.  At this point, a U.S. Army sergeant had identified most of the military personnel to the revolutionaries by rank, but he overlooked Engelmann.  The Iranians interrogated U.S. military personnel, but it was late March 1980 before they discovered that Engelmann was military.  He was then interrogated for two and half days, but his questioning was halted on Easter (April 6), when the 52 Americans were taken back to the chancellory to meet with Red Cross representatives and a group of ministers.    25 April an American attempt to rescue the hostages failed when aircraft and helicopters crashed in the desert, but the effort unnerved the Iranians.  After the failed hostage rescue attempt, the split up the hostages and moved them frequently to widely separated locations around the country, always late at night and locked in the trunks of cars.  The hostages assumed the relocations were routine.  They were completely isolated from any news and unaware of the rescue attempt until September, when a friend sent crossword puzzles from The New York Times.  On the reverse side of a puzzle, a television program listing included a special on the failed rescue mission.  The hostages were permitted only limited access to magazines, but they could receive The Sporting News.  Engelmann says they read everything in the sports paper, including all the classifieds, footnotes, and advertising.  They learned of the shah’s death in Egypt from a story on a golf match that mentioned television coverage had been interrupted for a program on the deposed Iranian leader’s passing.  The hostages also managed to extract financial information from The Sporting News.  An article on the Hickok Sportsman of the Year Belt Award made it possible to calculate that gold had risen to $800 an ounce.  From that, they estimated the U.S. inflation rate. [capt
Recently freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark Freedom One, an Air Force VC-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their arrival at the base.
Recently freed Americans held hostage by Iran disembark Freedom One, an Air Force VC-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their arrival at the base.
Photo By: PH2 Don Koralewski
VIRIN: 130422-N-ZZ219-0652
]    In September, the hostages also were unaware that Iran and Iraq were at war, but knew something was up when they heard planes overhead and bombs exploding at the nearby airport.  Able to hear the loudspeakers from a nearby mosque, they decided that a war must have started when President Jimmy Carter lost his place in Iranian prayers as “evil devil” to Saddam Hussein.  On Jan. 19, 1981, one of the peasants assigned to serve meager rations to the hostages and accompany them to the bathroom announced, “This is it.  Get your clothes.”  Each prisoner had only a plastic bag containing a change of underwear.  The Iranians first had to come up with 52 pairs of shoes.  The hostages were blindfolded, loaded on two buses late at night, and taken to the airport, where three Air Algerian planes waited.  The hostages were forced to walk through a mob of screaming, jeering Iranians.  When their plane was loaded, they moved onto the tarmac and sat.  Although the hostages did not know it, they were waiting for Ronald Reagan to be sworn in as President of the United States.  The planes then took off in different directions to avoid Iraqi pinpointing of the plane with the hostages.  Their plane landed at Athens for refueling well away from the terminal and then flew to Algiers.  The former hostages passed through a mob of reporters and cameramen to reach U.S. Navy and Air Force MEDEVAC C9’s, which took them to Rhein-Main to insulate the freed Americans from the German winter cold.  At the hospital, the former hostages were given real American food, physical exams, and the opportunity to make telephone calls.  Bob Engelmann talked with his parents back in Dallas and his detailer, Cmdr. Al Jones, who was working late at his NAVSUP office.  Engelmann learned that his orders to Subic Bay has been cancelled when he was detained in Iran.  He hold Jones that he would take his second choice, NSC Puget Sound, but first had to go back to NAVILCO to check out.  Engelmann finally went to be about 0300.  Later that day, less than 24 hours after they left office, former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale, and former DoD Secretary Cyrus Vance visited the released Americans at the U.S. military hospital Wiesbaden.  Three days later, the ex-prisoners flew back to Stewart Air Force Base, New York, where they were met by family members, and then flew on to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.  Receptions hosted by President Reagan and Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Tom Hayward and parades at both Washington and New York rounded out the activities.  LCDR Engelmann met at NAVSUP with Rear Adm. Grinstead and Rear Adm. Giordano.  He then went home to Dallas, where he learned that Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Carter, Jr., who had been designated to relieve him at Tehran, had gone instead to NAS Dallas as supply officer when the embassy was seized.  Carter has also been assigned to Engelmann’s family as casualty assistance calls officer.  Bob Engelmann says, “I lived to meet my CACO.  Most people don’t.”  Two months later, LCDR Engelmann went to Philadelphia, checked out of NAVILCO, and then drove across country via NSCS Athens, where he completed a short refresher course.  He reported in early May 1981 to NSC Puget Sound, Bremerton, Wash., and served there for three years, first as physical distribution officer and later as inventory control officer.  He was promoted to commander in May 1982.  He also met his wife, Elaine, at Puget.  They were married in June 1984 and immediately left for Hawaii, where CDR Engelmann was supply officer, Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay.  In September 1987 he reported to the Defense Construction Supply Center Columbus, Ohio, as assistant technical operations officer.  CDR Engelmann’s final tour was as supply officer, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., from September 1990 until his retirement in August 1992.  Bob Engelmann’s traumatic adventures in Iran are not his most favored reminiscences, but he has not been able to put them all in the past.  Over the years since he has retired, the State Department has required him to sign affidavits for use as depositions in Iran’s case for financial restitution before the World Court.  Islamic Iran claims that part of the agreement for release of the illegally held hostages was for the United States to refund money in an FMS trust fund into which the Imperial government paid for weapons systems and repair parts.  Engelmann signed such an affidavit before a notary public in late July 1994, but emphasizes that recalling specific dates, items, and amounts of 15-year-old individual transactions is exceedingly difficult.