...and a Tough Old Soldier Brings Off a Daring Rescue
Col. Arthur "Bull" Simons, 60, is one old soldier who refuses to fade away. A former Green Beret, he earned a chestful of fruit salad for his feats of derring-do in two wars and 30 years of active service in the Army. Until last month his most publicized exploit was the 1970 commando raid he led on Sontay prison camp, deep in North Vietnam, only to find that the American POWs had been evacuated by their captors. ("But we shot a hundred or so North Vietnamese," he says, "and that was a bonus.") Last month, in the midst of the Iranian revolution, he was at it again, leading a 15-man paramilitary team that spirited two imprisoned Americans out of the country.
It began about midnight on New Year's Day, when Simons got a phone call at the rural Florida home where he has lived since leaving the Army in 1970. The caller was H. Ross Perot, the gung-ho multimillionaire head of Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Dallas. Two EDS employees, William Gaylord and Paul Chiapparone, had been arrested in Tehran, Perot explained. He wanted Simons, an old friend, to get them out. Simons flew to Dallas the next morning. After two weeks of training Simons and his carefully selected team of former Army Rangers and Marine officers flew to the Middle East.
Gaylord and Chiapparone were in Gasre Prison, a formidable penitentiary on the outskirts of Tehran. The State Department says the men had been imprisoned on charges of corruption involving Iranian officials; Perot maintains they were being held for ransom. Whatever the circumstances, Perot decided after visiting the prison that "our team was too small to extract these men by force." Instead, they were freed by a remarkable stroke of good fortune when Simons-inspired street mobs stormed Gasre, releasing the Americans and 11,000 other prisoners. The men then made their way to a rendezvous in Simons' room at Tehran's Hyatt Hotel. "That evening we were sitting in the room and the telephone rang," recalls Simons. He answered and heard a click. "I didn't wait a minute. Whoosh—we got out of there." His instinct told him that something was amiss, and he was right. Two hours after the Americans had fled, a gang of revolutionaries riddled the hotel room with machine-gun bullets.
After hiding in the abandoned home of an EDS employee for a few days, Simons and five others left Tehran in two cars. The country was in chaos, and the Americans made the meandering 450-mile trip to the Turkish frontier without incident—unarmed. "We told everyone we were just a group of American men going home to visit our wives and children," explains Simons. "Why would a group like that be carrying weapons?" At the border there was a long, tense delay when an excitable young Turkish customs official asked why Gaylord and Chiapparone had no passports (they had been confiscated in prison). Simons, who once served in Turkey, was able to calm the situation. Then, after a call to Ankara, where Perot had spoken with Turkish officials, the party was waved across the border to freedom.
"Let me sum up what the colonel is," exulted Perot later. "I was with the colonel the night John Wayne met him after the Vietnam raid. John shook hands with tears in his eyes and said: 'Colonel, you are in real life the role that I play in the movies.' "
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