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'Freedom is not free': Man helps Folds of Honor decades after surviving Iranian hostage situation

Remembering the 8 men who perished trying to rescue the hostages, Sickmann now raises money for Folds of Honor

ST. LOUIS — On a busy day at Schnucks, we're reminded that everything comes at a price.

And we can never forget those willing to pay it. That's why Rocky Sickmann is here today.

"We as Americans must remember that freedom is not free," says Sickmann. Few appreciate freedom more than Sickmann.

In 1979, Sickmann was a 22-year-old Marine guard from Krakow, Missouri when demonstrators stormed the American Embassy in Iran.  The host country was supposed to provide outside security.

"I look at the front gate and they're coming over," recalls Sickmann. "There's no security Mike. None whatsoever."

Militants wanted the deposed Shah of Iran to stand trial and they were incensed at the United States' decision to admit him for medical treatment. Sixty-six Americans were taken hostage.

"I was tied in bed to a Naval officer, "remembers Sickmann. "He was at the foot of the bed. I was at the head of the bed. My wrists were tied to his ankles. My ankles were tied to his wrists.  And we slept there for a week."

A few of the hostages were released but for the next 444 days, the remaining 52 including Sickmann endured isolation, hunger and mock executions.

"I'm sitting there thinking, a young kid from Krakow, Missouri. Twenty-two years of age. Ten thousand miles away from home. This is where I'm going to die," Sickmann told us.

RELATED: 'It's a blessing for our family': How Folds of Honor is helping military family live the American dream

The crisis played out every night on American television and when the hostages were finally released on January 20th, 1981, they were greeted as heroes.

Thousands were at Lambert Airport when Rocky Sickmann, at last, came home.

The ordeal has its own display at the Soldier's Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis. Though it's been 40 years, looking at it still stirs Sickmann's emotions. Especially thinking of his late dad and the ride home from Lambert. Trucks from Valley Material Co., where Rocky's dad worked, were parked on the highway shoulder in salute.

"So we're passing Valley Park right there on the highway," Sickmann recalls while holding back tears. "The trucks were right there on the side of the road. And for my dad that was huge."

RELATED: Passion for purpose: Folds of Honor recipient honors father with scholarship

Back at Schnucks, Rocky now works for Folds of Honor, an organization that provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America's fallen and disabled service members.  He works in memory of those who died in the failed Iran hostage rescue mission.

"To me Mike, it's thinking back to those 8 individuals that lost their lives," he says. "Never again will those individuals be able to kick a ball with their kids or walk their daughters down the aisle. Those individuals lost everything."

Through the darkest time of his life, Rocky Sickmann never gave up.  And now he believes what matters is giving back.

"Freedom is not free," he repeats. "And that's why I continue to drive it home."

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