1981: Rick Kupke returns home to Indiana after being held hostage in Iran for 444 days

Posted at 5:30 AM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 05:30:57-05

INDIANAPOLIS — On the same day Ronald Reagan became the 40th President of the United States of America, 52 American hostages were released after being held captive in Iran for 444 days.

Among the hostages freed on January 20, 1981 was 34-year-old Frederick (Rick) Kupke of Francesville, Indiana. The communications and electronics specialist was taken captive along with 65 other Americans when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979.

While fourteen hostages were released between 1979 and 1980, 52 were held until 1981.

Upon release, the former hostages were eventually transported to West Point, where many were reunited with family. Kupke was reunited with his parents, Eleanor and Arthur.

The next stop for the released hostages was Andrews Air Force base in Washington, D.C. Former WRTV reporter Ken Nelson traveled to Washington and spoke with Kupke’s family shortly before they were reunited.

“I’m just excited,” Kupke’s sister Elizabeth said. “Can’t wait to see him. He sounded a little tired, but said he felt great.”

Tears flowed freely as Kupke embraced many of his family members on the tarmac on Jan. 27, 1981. The welcoming festivities continued as the freed hostages were taken to the White House to meet with President Reagan.

Kupke and his family returned home to Indiana the following day. They were greeted at Indianapolis International Airport by a cheering crowd of nearly 500, including Governor Robert Orr.

“I’d like to thank you all for this reception,” Kupke told the crowd. “My voice is completely gone. I’d just like to say it’s great to be back in America. It’s just great to be back in America with Americans. God bless you all.”

The Indiana State Police escorted the entire Kupke family back to Francesville. Reporter Ken Nelson rode along with the family in a motor home that was provided to the family to use at no cost.

Kupke’s plans upon returning home were simple.

“Start a long vacation of at least a month or two. I’m not going to worry about work, and the first thing I am going to do is a long slow easy vacation.”

Kupke then shared with Nelson what it was like while being held captive.

“It was like a prison term with no end. It’s hard to do time in prison when you don’t know where the end is. I always set my own personal date. My first date was day 100. After that, it was Christmas, then New Year’s, then after that it was January, my birthday. I always look forward to some date in the future, maybe not as a release, but as I’m working towards that day.

“I felt it was a possibility that I wouldn’t make it out. It may have crossed my mind once every day. I was told that I was going on trial and that there was a very good chance I would be executed. I was told I was going to be killed. I was told I was going to die. It’s tough. It wouldn’t do any good to fall apart at the time. You had to force yourself through it.”