It’s been 40 years since the Iran hostage crisis but Marine veteran Rocky Sickmann can remember almost every detail.
“’Don’t fire! Don’t do anything. Help is on the way,’” Sickmann recalls hearing as he thinks about the intense event.
A 22-year-old Marine Security Guard at the embassy in 1979, Sickmann and more than 60 other Americans were taken captive by revolutionary Iranian students who stormed the compound.
“There was nobody at the front gate to hold them off. It was just like open season,” Sickmann said.
After barricading himself and others into a secure part of the embassy, he remembers the cries of co-workers being pushed against the door.
“’Rocky, they’ve got a gun to my head. If you don’t open the door, they’re going to shoot me,’” he remembers one saying.
In communication with President Jimmy Carter, Sickmann and company would later give themselves up and hope for a diplomatic resolution. That resolution would take a harrowing 444 days.
“I prayed a lot. More than I ever prayed in my life. Being held for 444 days is traumatic. Not only for me but for my poor family as well,” Sickmann said.
Honoring the ‘eight’
From being tied to a chair for 30 days to mock executions, the ordeal has taken a toll even though he made it out alive. Hours after President Carter left office in January of 1981, Sickmann and the remaining hostages were released.
“I might look normal on the outside, but I’m all screwed up on the inside. Post-traumatic stress, it never leaves,” Sickmann said.
Something that deeply haunts the now married father of three is the eight American servicemembers who died during a mission to rescue him in 1980.
“Every morning I wake up, I think of those eight individuals that never again would they be able to walk their daughter down the aisle, kick a soccer ball with their grandkids, go fishing with their son. These are things I get to do. Those guys sacrificed, the ultimate sacrifice, their life,” Sickmann said.
The least he can do is try and take care of their families. It’s the foundation for Sickmann’s work with the nonprofit Folds of Honor. He’s the senior vice president of Budweiser accounts for Folds of Honor.
Folds of Honor provides scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service members.
Support from Sanford Health
Sanford Health, a strong supporter of veterans and a 2020 Freedom Award winner, is a sponsor.
Folds of Honor is one of the main benefactors of the funds raised during the Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends for Kids events.
“It’s a labor of love. Without question, it’s something that’s really cool to do,” said Brad Coleman, Sanford Health senior communications specialist.
Coleman is the co-director of Legends. He also helped start the South Dakota chapter of Folds of Honor last December and serves as president.
“Our organization at Sanford, as a whole, really loves it when we as employees do service work. We serve on volunteer boards and committees and just get involved in the community,” Coleman said.
While the local chapter is new, Coleman says Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends for Kids has been donating to the national Folds of Honor organization since 2018. Roughly $90,000 has been raised for families of fallen or disabled veterans.
“In the last three years, South Dakota has been fortunate enough to have three recipients each year. Our goal is to double or triple that here in 2021,” Coleman said.
With the Legends event and other fundraisers in the works, future goals are even higher.
“We’d love to be in a position where the South Dakota chapter is funding 10, 15, 20, 25 scholarships every single year,” Coleman said.
Taking care of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is the right thing to do according to Sickmann.
“Freedom is not free. There are men and women serving our country to this day, around the world, as we live in this free society,” Sickmann said.
He applauds Sanford Health’s support of Folds of Honor and its mission to be an employer of choice for veterans.
“You can’t beat it. They’re disciplined. They’re well-trained,” Sickmann said. “Hire them if you can and don’t forget benefitting their families because the families are there and they definitely need to be applauded.”
- Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends to donate back record $270,000
- Veterans get a break for the mind and body outdoors
- Sanford Health honors Air Force nurses with challenge coins