HERMITAGE, Pa. – How much of that agonizing one year, two month, two week, three-day ordeal that ended 20 years ago last January – on Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural day – do you remember?
For those who lived through it, the Iran hostage crisis was a grinding ordeal that seemed as if it would never end.
But as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, and the 52 Americans held hostage in the American embassy remained out of sight, some of the edge did begin to wear off of the public outrage. Flag-waving protests gave way to nightly news updates.
One man’s mission.
Tom Flynn, owner of Hillcrest Memorial Gardens in Hermitage, Pa., created his own way of dealing with the day-to-day endlessness of the crisis.
He was afraid Americans were losing touch with the crisis as they began to lose track of the duration of the captivity. And he thought the crisis was too important to forget.
To help Hermitage and the nation remember, he started erecting flags, one flag each day for the entire 444 days that Americans were held hostage in Iran.
The Avenue of Flags still stands in Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, one of the few remaining memorials to that receding American memory of when American was held hostage by Iranian fundamentalist militants.
First flags donated.
The first flags were erected along a paved pathway at the entrance of the memorial gardens to commemorate the 100th day of captivity. Labor was provided by unemployed steel workers in the Shenango Valley. The flags were donated by families of veterans buried at Hillcrest.
On Day 100, the parents of Michael Matrinko of Oliphant, Pa., who was among the captives, raised the 100th flag, and lit a flame of freedom.
Flynn then committed to add one additional flag for each day of captivity. Additional ceremonies were held on Day 200, 300, 365, and 400.
More than 1,000 flags were used to keep the flags flying during the original 444 days. All but 100 of them were donated by supporters from all around the world. Most had once draped the casket of an American veteran, representing periods in history from the Spanish-American War through Vietnam.
Today, the flags to keep the memory of the hostage ordeal flying are purchased new by Hillcrest at an annual investment of over $12,000. They fly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the Avenue of Flags is visited by people from all over the world.
In addition to the flags there is a memorial erected by Flynn and the citizens of Scranton, Pa., to the eight American servicemen who lost their lives in the ill-fated attempt to launch a military rescue of the hostages.