The Hoosier Hero Of The Iranian Hostage Crisis

Frederick Lee Kupke reaches out from the window of a van to greet the people who turned out to welcome him home following his release from Tehran. | Location: Francesville, Indiana, USA.

Northern Indiana doesn’t see many parades in January, but 40 years ago, the town of Francesville turned out to welcome Frederick Lee Kupke home on a brisk winter day. He stretched out the window of an RV as he waved to the crowd, which seemed to sigh in collective relief. He was making his way home after landing in Washington, D.C., following his release from Iran, where he had just spent over a year as a hostage.

Rick Kupke wasn’t even supposed to be in Iran—he’d volunteered for the position on behalf of his roommate. The 32-year-old communications specialist arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in August 1979. On November 4, the day before he was scheduled to leave, students supporting the Iranian Revolution overtook the embassy, capturing 66 American citizens and diplomats.

Kupke had been encrypting classified messages when the raid started, and quickly sent a telegram alerting the State Department in D.C. before shredding sensitive documents, destroying communication equipment, and rushing to the roof to dismantle weapons. He was the last man captured. The action was depicted in Ben Affleck’s Academy Award–winning film based on the events, Argo. In an essay Kupke wrote for Dreamcatcher Magazine, he says, “I have bragging rights for being in the Best Picture of 2012. Unfortunately, those rights came at the price of spending 444 days as a hostage in Iran under some pretty horrible conditions.”

Kupke, who is one-quarter Kiowa Indian, goes on to describe the torture—Russian roulette, solitary confinement, severe beatings. “It remained my goal to conduct myself in a manner that would reflect favorably on the Kiowa people. I was not allowed to go outside and I found that I really missed seeing the sun or stars. Ever since I got out, I look at the sky every day.”

Under that same hidden sky, back home in the Hoosier State, Kupke was never forgotten. “This crisis claimed the world’s attention and was shocking to our community,” says Karen Fritz, a longtime local journalist who covered Kupke’s parade. “When he returned, people gave him his space. Rick made it pretty clear that his intention was to move on.” At some point, Kupke moved to Texas, where he apparently still resides. He had lived a quiet life for years. “We held the parade,” recalls Fritz, “and in true small-town fashion, everyone saw that he was safe, and that was satisfactory, and life moved on.”