AUSTIN -- The movie Argo just took home top honors at the Oscars for Best Picture. You probably did not know about the Central Texas connection to the event the movie is based on. It’s a story one man kept quiet for decades.
On November 4th, 1979, Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran. Fifty-two Americans were captured and held for 444 days. But six got away on that November day. Their escape is Argo.
CIA operatives disguised as Canadian movie producers rescued the group hiding at Canada's embassy in Iran.
"Oh my god! oh my god! oh my god! I was there," said Thom McInnis.
More than 7000 miles and 33 years from that drama, McInnis remembers it like it was yesterday saying, “I know something the rest of the world doesn't know.”
McInnis and his family spent the late 70's living in Tehran. He learned the city, the customs, the people.
“Oh the people were a lovely people. They took us right in, made us a part of their home, made us a part of their family,” he said.
But that acceptance began to change in 1978. The pro-American Shah was losing control. As McInnis neared high school graduation from the Tehran American School, his family decided to leave. Everyone left except McInnis who stayed three more months to graduate.
The day after receiving his diploma everything changed.
“The flood gates opened. Pan Am brought in extra flights everyday doing voluntary evacuations. They had charter planes flying in and it was real crazy. The people who had the tickets had to fight their way up to the desk. I actually saw fathers take their children and heave them over people," McInnis said.
McInnis made it out. Safely in the U.S. he joined the Army and was quickly stationed in Germany just as the hostage crisis erupted.
What the movie Argo doesn't show about the six Americans who escaped is their weekslong struggle to get to the Canadian embassy, hiding out with sympathetic Iranians, moving everyday so they wouldn't be caught.
To track them, the U.S. government needed help. They needed someone with knowledge of Tehran and who spoke Farsi. Private First Class McInnis was tapped for the job.
“The admiral says 'here's the situation, we have a set of phones here on the ground and a set of maps.' He said 'I hear you speak Farsi.' I said 'yes I do.' 'I understand you used to ride the bus system in Tehran,' I said 'yes sir I did.' so you're pretty comfortable with the streets. And he said 'I want you to sit there and I want you to man these phones and I want you to take whatever information they have.'”
For nearly two weeks McInnis plotted the Americans movements.
“I would try to find them down to a general area where I understood them and I would draw a circle which was kind of within the area of town,” McInnis said.
After the six were rescued, the Canadian government was given credit. McInnis always knew he played a small part in the rescue mission but he didn't know the full extent until a trip to the theater late last year.
“When I went to the movies with my wife it was like the extras for the trailer for Argo. It's a surreal moment, an out of body experience," he said.
McInnis has written a blog about his experience which has been read by people in more than 20 countries; his brief moment in time that helped make history.
“I never knew, never expected my little story would have such a wide audience as it did. To me, it was just something that happened to a 17-18-year-old kid. This was just part of my life,” he said.