I was assigned to the 41st Squadron, 437 Military Airlift Wing in Charleston, South Carolina from April ‘76 to August ‘80 flying C-141s. Our routes took us pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi including South America with the occasional trip west (Japan). It was a pretty good deal. That being said, one of my regular routes was Tehran, Iran. Nice city, nice people, pretty interesting place. However, as we all know, things changed dramatically when the Shah left. We were tasked with immediately evacuating the Americans after the regime change. Things were going downhill fast, so there would be no staying overnight this time. We came in during the early morning hours while it was still dark doing a high altitude penetration with all of our lights out, landed, and were led to our parking space. As the sun came up, our evacuees started arriving. Outside the gates of the airport there were already large crowds as the Ayatollah was supposed to arrive that day on Air France. (We had actually walked over to witness the event.) However, unfortunately or rather fortunately, he did not come in that day.
A little while later as I was in the cockpit programming the INS, the loadmaster came running up slightly excited. He pointed towards the back of the aircraft. A light armored column had stopped and swung their guns on us. There was a gentleman on top of the unit with a mounted machine gun also pointed at us. All I could think to do was smile and wave. To my surprise, one of his hands came up and he waved back. With that, I jumped off of the ramp and started towards him. He followed me with the gun until I was close enough that it hit its locks. I climbed up with a smile and displayed interest towards his vehicle. It was almost too funny. You could see the question mark above his head. With that, he proceeded to let me see down the hatch and show me how his vehicle worked, kind of a neat moment. With sign language we indicated that we were both commanders. I wish I could have shown him the airplane, but he indicated that he had to go, so I stepped off, we saluted each other, and he proceeded on his way with the column.
We left a little while later, spiraling up, popping flares with our fancy jury rigged flare guns (made for this occasion) until we reached 10,000 feet. We then closed the hatches and proceeded on our way. As we announced that we crossed into Turkey, the back of the airplane erupted into cheering. Later, I learned that Khomeini had arrived the next day and no other aircraft were allowed in.
History shows that things quickly got worse for the Iranians with Shariah Law and executions, along with our embassy being taken. I had a sense of sadness as things unfolded. Hopefully, someday things will change for the better. Funny how when you look into somebody’s face of a different country and culture you see there is no animosity and that we are all in this together.