Much of the news this past week has been dominated by United States conflicts with the government of Iran. Older folks such as myself, recall the tense situation in the late 1970s when the Shah of Iran was ousted and militant students stormed the US embassy in Tehran, demanding the extradition of the Shah, who had found refuge in the United States. The Shah died in Cairo, Egypt while undergoing treatment for cancer. The militant students took 52 hostages from the embassy, triggering a major international crisis that lasted for more than a year.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, became the country’s supreme leader.
Kathryn and Max Pahmeier and their daughters, Laurie and Jody, lived in Tehran during the tumultuous transition of regimes. Kathryn and Max were employees of Boeing.
Max’s job was to teach Iranians in the Shah’s military the aerodynamics and mechanics of flying airplanes. Kathryn worked at the United Nations in the departments of tourism and information. “It “was a wonderful experience,” she said.
While the Pahmeiers were in Tehran, Boeing introduced a program which allowed employees and their families to get out of the country every six months and “go wherever we wanted in certain circumference, which included Europe and Asia,” said Kathryn.
The family also enjoyed R&R when they went skiing about 50 miles out of the city.
The family lived in an apartment that was not far from the embassy, which was later stormed by the militant students.
The Pahmeiers did not have a car in Tehran, but were given vouchers for transportation.
The Pahmeier girls attended an American international school, but the parents decided to put Laurie in a private Lutheran school.
On Laurie’s first day of school, the school bus driver mistakenly dropped her off in the wrong neighborhood.
Her mother nervously stood by the living room window, waiting for her to come home. Praying for her safety, Kathryn was comforted in the knowledge that “Iranians loved children and were family oriented,” she said.
Laurie was eventually picked up by an elderly Iranian woman who took her to the police station, which notified the American embassy of the situation.
Needless to say, the experience was disconcerting for the Pahmeiers, but graver situations awaited them.
People were leaving Iran in droves as the political climate in Tehran heated up.
Kathryn was informed that she and the girls needed to leave the country as soon as possible. Max was in Germany at the time.
Kathryn and the girls got rides to the airport, which was filled with travelers leaving the country. “Half of Iran was trying to get out.” The counters were surrounded by people. Soon an Iranian man signaled for Kathryn and the girls to follow him. He took them to the head of the line. Kathryn called him a Good Samaritan.
The passengers boarded a Lufthansa plane.
Before take-off, an engine in the plane went out. The plane was grounded for the time being.
“That night they made us stay on the airplane,” said Kathryn. “That was fine. We had hot food and electricity. We were comfortable.”
The plane took off the next day and Kathryn gave a sigh of relief when they departed Iranian air space.
Max returned to Tehran and stayed there for awhile. Kathryn and the girls lived in Greece. The family was eventually united in the states. During that time, the Iranian students on American college campuses protested American influence.
Kathryn admits she was “very angry” about the demonstrations.
“When I was in their country I had to live according to their principles,” she said. She expected the same kind of respect from the Iranians in America.
Reflecting over the Pahmeiers’ stint in Iran, Kathryn said there were a lot of good people in Iran.
Currently the Pahmeiers live in Washington, but Kathryn is drawn to Kodiak, especially during holidays such as Pascha (Easter) and “Russian Christmas, which is currently being celebrated by the faithful.