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#87 A Crisis Abroad Forced Students to Leave Norwich

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Norwich Was There

President Loring Hart signed an agreement in 1976 to allow midshipmen from the Iranian Imperial Navy to enroll at Norwich for education and training. The Citadel and VMI had similar programs. Just two years later, while the students were in the middle of their studies, came the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution.

Tensions between the United States and Iran peaked with the hostage crisis, a standoff during which 52 American citizens were held hostage in their Tehran embassy for over a year, from November 1979 to January 1981. During this time, the U.S. government decided that employees of the Iranian government and other holders of official visas would no longer be welcome in the United States.

Unfortunately, this extended to the Iranian naval cadets, who held official government visas and were in the U.S. under the direct sponsorship of the Iranian navy. When the order came down to President Hart in April of 1980, there were over 80 Iranian students studying at Norwich, many on the cusp of graduating.

They were given a mere 48 hours to pack up their dorm rooms, say good-bye to their friends, and return to a country in turmoil. On a chilly spring morning, hundreds of fellow students and faculty members gathered outside Harmon Hall to bid them a tearful farewell as they boarded buses bound for JFK airport. They did not know whether they would even receive credit for their coursework at Norwich.

When the students touched down in Tehran, they returned to a transformed place, some of them after nearly four years as typical American college students. Female cadets, some of the first in the history of the Iranian navy, were no longer welcome in the military. Some cadets and their families were blacklisted by the Ayatollah’s regime due to their affiliation with the ousted Shah’s government.

Many of the deported students have since made their way back to the U.S., with some even settling in Vermont. Bizhan Yahyazadeh, who had resigned from the Iranian navy in 1979 and was able to stay and graduate in 1980, is the current director of facilities operations at Norwich. In 2005, 22 members of the Class of 1980 attended their 25th reunion and received honorary diplomas from President Schneider.

You can read more about where the deported Iranian cadets are now in a 2012 Norwich Record article by Gary Frank entitled “The Rest of the Story.”

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