‘It wasn’t like Argo,’ former Foreign Service officer says of 1979 escape from the U.S. Iranian embassy

Mark Lijek and wife Cora pose with President Jimmy Carter after their return to the U.S. When Islamic militants took over the embassy and captured most of the embassy staff in 1979, they and a small group of other Foreign Service officers escaped and sought refuge with the Canadian diplomats.

By Larry Vogel/For Lynnwood Today

A capacity luncheon crowd heard former U.S. Foreign Service officer Mark Lijek tell what it was like to really be there in the wake of the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Tehran by Islamic militants.

Sponsored by the Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds Community College, the luncheon is one in a series that brings a range of speakers to Edmonds.

Lijek talked about how he got into the Foreign Service as a newly-married 23-year-old, and how as a new officer he pretty much had to go where he was told.

“They offered us Tehran, and it looked as good as anything,” he said. “Little did we know that six weeks after arriving the government would fall, the militants would occupy the embassy, and we’d be on the run.”

Lijek addresses the crowd gathered at Edmonds Community College as part of the college’s Creative Retirement Institute’s ongoing programs. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

Lijek addresses a capacity luncheon crowd at Edmonds Community College as part of the college’s Creative Retirement Institute’s ongoing programs.

Most members of the audience had seen the movie “Argo,” and Lijek spent much of the Q&A time answering questions about how accurately the movie depicted actual events. At one point he was asked about the final scenes in which the airplane was being chased down the runway by rebel military vehicles as it was preparing for takeoff.

“It wasn’t exactly like that,” he said. “There was no last-minute chase down the tarmac, and even if there were, a 757 is going at about 180 miles per hour at takeoff, and their vehicles consisted of old Nash Ramblers and similar cars. And unlike the movie, our check-in was pretty smooth, and from there on out it was pretty uneventful.”

Lijek is author of “The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery.”

Lijek has written a book recounting his experiences escaping from Tehran. Titled “The Houseguests: A Memoir of Canadian Courage and CIA Sorcery,” the book tells the story from an insider’s perspective. Lijek and his wife Cora currently live in Anacortes.

The Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) is a self-supporting organization providing affordable, quality educational experiences targeted to lifelong learners. Each quarter, CRI offers an array of classes taught by experts in their fields. Targeted to people who love learning for its own sake, the courses entail no tests or grades. Learn more here.




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