By Mike Bush
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - For some it's a distant memory; for Rocky Sickmann, it feels like yesterday.
"You never forget what happened that November 4," Sickmann said.
The year was 1979. Sickmann, a 22-year-old Marine guard from Krakow, Missouri, was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. Incensed at the United States' decision to admit Iran's deposed and unpopular Shah for medical treatment, Islamic militants stormed the embassy. Sickmann and the other guards held off the attackers for several hours behind locked doors.
"Now all of a sudden, the people that did not make it into safety they're bringing them up to the door and now putting guns to their head," recalled Sickmann.
Sickmann and the others were ordered to stand down. Sixty-six Americans were taken hostage.
"So we opened the door," he said. "We were the first ones out and that started the next 444 days."
A few hostages were released but for the next 14 and half months, the 52 remaining were bound, blindfolded, taunted and even endured mock executions.
"The first 30 days, you were not allowed to speak. You were tied to a chair," Sickmann said. "And you're hearing gunshots outside and you're hearing 'death to America' and you're thinking Rocky Sickmann, Krakow, Missouri, and this is where I'm going to die - in the Middle East."
The hostage crisis was played out on TV every night in American homes and in many ways it paralyzed the country. Most analysts believe that it likely cost President Jimmy Carter re-election.
While nearly all the hostages have said they feared for their lives, the worst part, according to Sickmann, was the isolation. By the time their release was finally negotiated, they had trouble comprehending.
"You have to understand this is after the mock firing squads, Russian roulette, being locked in a room and now all of a sudden it's time to go home. And we didn't believe 'em," Sickmann said.
When the hostages did finally make it out, they were treated like heroes.
"We landed in Germany and it was 3 o'clock in the morning and there were hundreds of thousands of people at 3 o'clock in the morning. I thought we were the Beatles or something," Sickmann said.
And thousands were at Lambert when Rocky Sickmann came home.
Thirty years later, Sickmann often thinks about what his parents went through while he was in captivity. He lost them both this past year and the only time he has trouble talking about his experience is when he thinks about the first phone call he made to his dad after his release.
"You remember all those wonderful times with your dad," Sickmann said.
Though none of the hostages were killed there are many who believe the terrorists of today were emboldened by the success of the crisis. Sickmann cringes every time he sees Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the news. From the day he took power, Sickmann has been sure Ahmadinejad was one of his captors.
"I opened the page and here's this full page picture of him and my hair stands up on the back of my neck," Sickmann said.
Even if you don't remember his name, you have likely seen Rocky Sickmann's face around town over the past 30 years. If he's not getting a medal for bravery, he's helping former Rams Quarterback Mark Bulger open up the newly renovated USO at the airport. And he's still involved with the armed services as director of military sales of Anheuser-Busch.
He and Jill, the girlfriend who ran across the tarmac to greet him in 1981, have been married 30 years and raised three children. They recently became grandparents for the first time. Even after all he's been through, he considers himself, lucky.
"Every morning I wake up, I know I'm the luckiest man in the world," he said.
Thirty years is a long time, but not so long that we should forget.