Backtracking: In Our Times: Area marked Inauguration Day 1981 with plans to celebrate hostages released from Iran

FileAn unidentified Oneonta school student carries one of 52 American flags, for each hostage released, leading a parade in downtown Oneonta held to welcome home the hostages on Thursday, Jan. 29, 1981.

The gamut of emotions will be running throughout the day across the nation Wednesday, Inauguration Day.

From the heightened security measures to COVID-19 precautions, the day’s events will be memorable.

Another Inauguration Day is likely still memorable for many from 40 years ago. Not only was there a peaceful transition of power, but as President Ronald Reagan gave his address, 52 American hostages were released after 444 days in Iran and local residents were ready to celebrate.

As The Daily Star reported on Jan. 24, “Oneonta will honor the return of the … hostages with marching bands, blaring sirens and cheering crowds on Thursday, Jan. 29.

“The City of Oneonta, Oneonta School District and St. Mary’s School will organize a parade and other activities beginning at 10 a.m.

“School Superintendent Thomas A. Paternostro expects a large crowd. ‘The minimal will be 3,000 (people),’ he said. ‘I can assure you of that.’

“The gala is the brainchild of Mayor James F. Lettis and School Board President LeRoy S. House. ‘We thought we should do something to honor this occasion,’ Lettis said.

As promised, there was a good turnout in downtown Oneonta, as The Star reported on Jan. 30, “Yellow bunting and a blue sky provided the backdrop Thursday as thousands of school children gave a hero’s welcome to 52 once-captive Americans.

“Even though Oneonta isn’t home for any of the now free hostages, the city pulled out all the stops to celebrate their return.

“‘This is a really great thing,’ said one shopkeeper along the street. ‘These kids are getting a valuable lesson in what it means to be an American.’

“Young Daniel Konstanty, representing the district’s students advised his colleagues not to dwell on the 444 days the hostages were in bondage.

“‘Let’s not dwell on the sorrowful 444 days of captivity but let’s learn from the past and look to the future,’ he said.”

One Oneontan was fortunate enough to have an encounter with a few of the freed hostages. Tom Ryan was then an aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and was in Washington, D.C. He wrote an account of the event, which appeared in The Star’s Jan. 31 edition.

Ryan was set to board an airline shuttle to New York so he could then board a Catskill Airways flight to Oneonta.

“‘As I rushed to the gate my path was suddenly blocked by someone who I recognized instantly but had never met. He was also making his way to a flight but there was a great deal of interest in him on the part of three waiting television crews. He was one of America’s returned hostages from Iran. New York’s own Barry Rosen, the only one of the 52 who called the Empire State home.

“‘Now the television lights lit up the area near the boarding gate as microphones pressed closer to Rosen. More and more people realized they too were in the presence of one of the most popular people in the country and thrust their right hands out to greet him. ‘Welcome back,’ they said. ‘God bless you.’

“‘It was time to go. People bound for the Big Apple merged single file on the ramp. But the TV crews were blocking the way. I tried to excuse myself. ‘Get in line buddy,’ came the reply from the technicians (obviously from the New York press corps.) They were going too.”

For the next hour, Ryan got to speak with some other hostages, in addition to Rosen. He heard several stories being told to the press corps, interviewing them on the flight.

As Ryan described it, “Sophisticated New Yorkers. Well-dressed businessmen. Good-looking young ladies. College kids in jeans and a work shirt. They all patiently awaited their chance, but they all wanted the same thing — a chance to say hello to the ex-hostages and get their tickets signed.” Ryan himself was able to get his ticket autographed by three of the ex-hostages.

While Ryan and passengers left the plane, the hostages remained on board, soon to be escorted to a welcome by New York Mayor Ed Koch. 

This weekend: Sidney suddenly needed a new hospital in 1941.

 

 

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Wednesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com

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