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The Greatest Speaker I Never Knew

December 9, 2021

It was 1981. I was in high school. We had an assembly. Remember assemblies? Even the name seems foreign during COVID’s social distancing.

I don’t remember the name of the speaker. I’ve even looked for it since then. No luck. But, he was, without a doubt the most engaging motivational speaker I have ever heard.

He was the Marine commander at the US Embassy in Tehran. For 444 days he, and a few dozen other Americans were held hostage in Iran. I think the message he was attempting to share was to just push on. Always, even in the worst of circumstances, keep going. Even when you don’t think you can continue. Go anyway.

He spoke Farsi. He had the opportunity to escape at the beginning of the occupation. But, he’d hardly be the commander of a military unit if he donned Arab dress and snuck off and left his charges to someone else.

He said the first thing the Iranians did when they took over the embassy was they ripped the bottom of everyone’s shoes off. They were looking for hidden telephones. Have you ever seen the old TV show Get Smart? Well, the Iranians had. The main character has a phone in his shoe. . .a rotary phone.

They also carefully pieced together all shredded documents. I’m not sure why I remember that bit of his talk.

He was placed in solitary confinement. He was moved to different rooms at different times. Despite the Iranians taking away most of his freedoms, he was determined to remain in charge of his own decisions.

One decision was to exercise daily. They couldn’t stop him from doing that. He did pushups and sit-ups and he walked 3 miles per day. Often his room was small, eight feet by six feet. He knew his belt was 36″ long. He used it to measure the distance around the room. He then did the calculations to walk 3 miles.

His rooms didn’t have a bathroom, so he got to leave his room at those times. As he was making his way to the bathroom, there was written on the wall in Farsi, the words “Down With Carter.” The speaker said he attempted to think what he might do. Finally, he wrote the word “Sit” in front of it.

Of course, the next time he went to the bathroom the word “Sit” had been erased. He wrote it again. They erased it again. He then scratched it in with a nail. The next time he walked down the hall the words “Down With Carter” had been erased. He said that was a good day.

The Olympics were going on during the year he was imprisoned. He had only a spoon and toilet paper available to him. He decided to stage his own Olympics. He was able to win several gold medals, which he was very proud of.

Eventually, he was allowed out of his solitary confinement. He had access to the library. There he found a book on German. He didn’t speak German. So, he set a goal to learn it. He managed to. At least to an extent.

“When we arrived in Germany, I was excited to try out my new German language skills. Sadly, the locals had no idea what I was trying to say.”

I’m not sure why I remember that day and that story so clearly. And yet, I cannot remember his name, or what he looked like.

Keep going. There is ALWAYS something you can do. There is ALWAYS a way to fight back. Even if you have nothing except a spoon, toilet paper and a bit of thread, you can be an Olympic champion.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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