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Roswell cop Kenneth Kraus was a former Iran hostage


'I'm not supposed to be alive'



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Roswell Police Detective Ken Kraus spent a week in an Iranian prison in 1979, shortly before the Iranian Hostage Crisis later that year. Kraus, now 56, holds up a report of the time showing how emaciated he was after his ordeal. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)
March 19, 2013
ROSWELL, Ga. – Ben Affleck's film "Argo" just won the Oscar for Best Picture for its portrayal of the events surrounding the Iranian hostage affair in 1979. When people think of American hostages in Iran, they often recall the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days between Nov. 4, 1979, and Jan. 20, 1981. What they don't think of is the first time Americans were taken hostage – Feb. 14, 1979. That was when the embassy in Iran was stormed and one Marine was injured and carried away. He spent a week in detention.

That Marine was Kenneth Kraus, who is now a detective with the Roswell Police Department.

"It was the first time an embassy was taken in U.S. history," Kraus said.

Kraus, now 56, grew up in New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. He served eight years in the Marines.

In 1979, he was a Marine guard in Cyprus. For Marines, soldiers would serve 18 months of a "hardship" tour – in an unstable or unwelcome country – and then 18 months in a stable, friendly country.

"I went to Cyprus for my hardship," he said.

The Cyprus of 1978 was not the beach resort island we know today – Turkey had just invaded and divided the island. Kraus was there only a short time before he was reassigned to Iran, where popular opinion had shifted against the ruling Shah.

"Iran was heating up and they needed people from the [stable] countries."

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Ken Kraus, center, receives medals for his time in an Iranian prison after the siege of the American Embassy in February 1979. (click for larger version)
So 22-year-old Kraus was sent to Tehran.

"I thought, 'I'll go there for 90 days and then I'll come back,'" he said.

It did not quite work out that way.

"A lot of people assumed the Shah would be able to keep control," he said. "They vastly underestimated the will of the fundamentalist Muslims."

In February of 1979, the revolution began and the Shah was overthrown by the radicals. The embassy came under attack Feb. 14 from militants.

The 27-acre embassy compound was completely overrun and the security on hand was not able to defend itself. The Marine guards were armed only with pistols and shotguns – not effective over long distances.

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Ken Kraus is hugged on the tarmac by his mother and top military leaders in 1979 after his release. (click for larger version)
"This was not the Alamo," Kraus said.

Kraus and two other Marines were trapped in the embassy restaurant with more than 20 civilians when the fighting began.

One of the militants came near the restaurant building and Kraus managed to catch him by surprise, getting close to him and pointing a shotgun at his head.

"I could feel the sweat on my finger. At that range, he's not going to have a head."

Kraus negotiated with the man to let the civilians go peacefully. Once they were gone, Kraus returned to the restaurant and the Marines began destroying their weapons to keep them from falling into enemy hands.

The militants stormed into the restaurant and captured the Marines. When the men found the broken weapons, they were enraged. One man found a shotgun that appeared functional and pointed it at Kraus.

"I realized this guy is going to shoot me," Kraus said, as he recalled the moment. "It gets real quiet and then I hear this slow roar."

That roar was the shotgun blast aimed at him.

The bent barrel of the gun and the inexperience of the gunman with shooting shotguns saved Kraus' life. The shot was not a direct hit. His injuries were severe, but his body armor had taken the brunt of the blast.

In and out of consciousness, Kraus awoke in a hospital and was quickly taken to a prison cell, lit only by one bare light bulb and filled with political prisoners from the Shah's regime. He stayed there for a full week.

"I never saw the light of day," he said. "It smelled of death."

He was interrogated and tortured for days, his captors trying to force him to reveal embassy security details. He refused to give up any details, frustrating his captors.

Finally, he was pulled before a tribunal to stand trial for his crimes – allegedly shooting three Iranians at the embassy. The parties communicated through an interpreter.

"I told them I didn't shoot anyone," he said.

The tribunal returned him to his cell, where he was met with incredulity from his cellmates – no one returned from the trials. They were either set free or executed.

A day later, he was back at the embassy, greeted by fellow Americans. His release was arranged by President Jimmy Carter. A few days later, he was in Washington, D.C.

When he returned, Kraus was given a hero's welcome. Emaciated and showing the scars of his injury, he met with Carter and made the rounds on the talk shows. There were plenty of articles written about him in major publications.

For his trials, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Commendation Medal.

"I'm not supposed to be alive," he said. "Being a hostage, when someone is totally in control of you, for the rest of your life you don't ever want to be a hostage ever again."

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Tags: Community & Outreach

  1. report print email
    Thank the Good Lord
    March 19, 2013 | 04:03 PM

    Glad you are alive, other wise I wouldn't be here.

    Your Son, Gabriel
    Much dad!

    Gabriel Kraus
    Houston
  2. report print email
    Thank the Good Lord
    March 19, 2013 | 04:03 PM

    Glad you are alive, other wise I wouldn't be here.

    Your Son, Gabriel
    Much dad!

    Gabriel Kraus
    Houston
  3. report print email
    My friend
    March 19, 2013 | 04:13 PM

    I'm blessed to have you as a friend in my life.

    Tara Abernathy
    Woodstock
  4. report print email
    Our Kenny !!
    March 19, 2013 | 04:36 PM

    I am just sitting here crying. Although I know of what you went through, this just brought it back. I am so proud to call you FRIEND, as well as Johnny is. We love you Ken Kraus !!!!!

    Jenny Russell
    Starkville
  5. report print email
    My Uncle Kenny has always been a hero to me!
    March 19, 2013 | 04:59 PM

    I remember when this happened. I was only a child then. I remember the whole family gathered around the living rooom watching the news around the clock desperately waiting to hear some news..any news..of the wellbeing of Kenny. I remember my mother's and grandmother's cries. I remember it all as if it happened just yesterday. I can only imagine what my uncle must remember.

    Douglas Israel
    San Diego
  6. report print email
    Thankful!
    March 19, 2013 | 10:21 PM

    So thankful you made it through that!!! Love ya Kenny!

    Donna Pyle
    Oxford
  7. report print email
    True Hero
    March 20, 2013 | 06:43 AM

    I'm glad to see a current article about what you went through for our country. Events like this should not be forgotten. God bless you Ken and I'm honor to call you my friend.

    Michael Hitt
    Roswell
  8. report print email
    Thanks
    March 20, 2013 | 03:35 PM

    We are proud of you Kenny!

    Andrew Hyde
    Alpharetta
  9. report print email
    Thanks
    March 20, 2013 | 03:36 PM

    We are proud of you Kenny!

    Andrew Hyde
    Alpharetta
  10. report print email
    Thank you
    March 21, 2013 | 08:26 AM

    I am proud to have worked beside you and learned from you. I appreciate all that you have done and continue to do for our great country. It has been a true honor and pleasure to call you my friend.

    Natalie Larson
    Brookville
  11. report print email
    Thank you
    March 21, 2013 | 08:26 AM

    I am proud to have worked beside you and learned from you. I appreciate all that you have done and continue to do for our great country. It has been a true honor and pleasure to call you my friend.

    Natalie Larson
    Brookville
  12. report print email
    Thank you
    March 21, 2013 | 08:26 AM

    I am proud to have worked beside you and learned from you. I appreciate all that you have done and continue to do for our great country. It has been a true honor and pleasure to call you my friend.

    Natalie Larson
    Brookville
  13. report print email
    Thank you
    March 21, 2013 | 09:35 AM

    I'm glad I know you. I can't even begin at imagine what you felt as you went through this. Everything you told me, can only scratch the surface of the actual event. God Bless

    Marc Bailey
    Broomfield Co
  14. report print email
    Thank You
    March 21, 2013 | 03:38 PM

    Was glad and honored to have had the opportunity to work with you and hear some of the details of your experience. Glad to call you a friend. I am grateful that you are doing well and being recognized again for your devotion to duty, it is very much deserved. Take care and god bless.

    Ted Freidenberger
    Rocky Ford, Co.
  15. report print email
    Thanks again
    March 21, 2013 | 03:46 PM

    My name didn't get posted on my original comment and wanted to make sure you knew who this was. Also an added thought, just wanted you to know that your story is not forgotten. I was telling a guy I work with about your ordeal just last night.


    Ted Freidenberger
    Rocky Ford, Co.
  16. report print email
    Thank you for your service!
    April 23, 2013 | 10:15 AM

    Semper Fi Brother.
    Long time since we've talked.
    Glad you are well.


    Thomas Chojnacki
    Brookville PA
  17. report print email
    Semper Fi!
    April 23, 2013 | 10:19 AM

    Ken,
    Thanks for your service and the memories.
    Semper Fi Brother.
    Hope you are well.
    Stay strong!
    Thomas Chojnacki

    Thomas Chojnacki
    Brookville PA
  18. report print email
    Semper Fi!
    August 12, 2013 | 10:00 AM

    It's good to see you're doing well. Great story. Best wishes from old marine buddies and from Sandia as well.

    Joseph Sandoval
    Belen, New Mexico
  19. report print email
    Marine Guard
    January 22, 2014 | 12:01 PM

    I remember hearing of this event from one of your fellow Marines, Glenn Parsons, Blairs Mill, PA. Very heroic.

    Dennis
    Salisbury, MD
  20. report print email
    Retired Marine
    July 15, 2014 | 03:42 PM

    Hey Ken, its Fred, from MCAS Beaufort, good to see you're still vertical. Still have the Bible you gave me way back then. Retired from USMC, almost ready to retire from Law Enforcement, send me a email.

    Fred Fernandez
    Port St Lucie FL
  21. report print email
    Retired Marine
    July 15, 2014 | 03:42 PM

    Hey Ken, its Fred, from MCAS Beaufort, good to see you're still vertical. Still have the Bible you gave me way back then. Retired from USMC, almost ready to retire from Law Enforcement, send me a email.

    Fred Fernandez
    Port St Lucie FL
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