On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Now this is a five star book if I’ve ever read one! I couldn’t put this book down. It was an amazing story told masterfully by Ken Follett. In looking over some reviews on Goodreads, I was surprised to see a couple of bad reviews with one saying it was not exciting. Are you kidding me??? This was one of the most exciting books I’ve ever read — and it’s a true story!
Ross Perot had a data processing company called EDS in the 1970s. (Too lazy to see if it still exists. LOL!) His company was in the process of creating Social Security and Medicaid programs for Iran when the Shah’s regime started to crumble and revolution was just around the corner. Iran didn’t pay their EDS bill for six months and it was quite large when two of the senior EDS executives were arrested without any reason and put into prison by an overzealous prosecutor I learned to seriously hate. He put their bail at 13 MILLION dollars. Murderers’ bail was typically $100,000. It was an insane amount. Essentially these businessmen were held hostage by the Iranian government for ransom. It was crazy.
Perot tried everything he could do to extricate his men legally and quickly, but nothing worked. He tried the US government, and that was laughable. He called in favors from people like Henry Kissinger. He tried to arrange bail to be paid, but it couldn’t work out. You couldn’t safely take that amount of money into Iran and lines of credit weren’t being honored by international banks. What to do….
I learned to really respect Perot a lot in this book. He worked his employees hard, but treated them like family and felt it was his responsibility to get these men out of prison and out of Iran. So he came up with a harebrained idea — bust them out of jail! During the Vietnam war, he had played a role in working to get MIAs out of Vietnam and supported veteran’s rights and was therefore well thought of by the military and those aligned with them. One of the people he honored at a party after the war was a Green Beret colonel named Bull Simons, a living legend. (In fact, I first heard about this book through a book on SOG I was reading that had a section on the infamous Bull Simons. I wanted to read more and bought this book. Am I glad I did!) Bull Simons was a retired widower, aging, but had led a rescue mission into North Vietnam and if anyone could do it in Iran, Perot thought it would be Simons, so he called him and Simons agreed to do it. Now, here’s a crazy part: instead of enlisting the aid of paid mercenaries or something along those lines, Perot lined up a few EDS employees, most of whom had military experience, and asked them to volunteer for something that was potentially life threatening. They all did. Simons met his team, trained them, and they went to Iran.
I don’t want to give away the story, but it’s an exciting tale. The revolution occurred while this was happening and there was insane fighting in the streets of Tehran and throughout the countryside. Americans were in danger. The American Embassy was no longer safe, so these men hid out in EDS safe houses and waited for the right time to rescue their men. It came and they did. That’s not the end of the story, however. They couldn’t exactly fly out of the country. That damned prosecutor was after these two men and had power all over the country, even with Iran in political chaos. Instead, the team had to trek through Iran to Turkey while other EDS employees made their way to Turkey to meet them and arrange transport out of Turkey back to the US. It’s a harrowing story with lots of suspense. I thought I was going to pass out reading this book at times. It’s just crazy! Perot flies into Iran, but as he would make a prime hostage, he flies back out, goes to the US, and then goes to Turkey with his team. When the two parties ultimately meet, it’s a delight to read about. However, even then, they’re not safe. They fly to Germany, but Germany has an extradition treaty with Iran, so they have to hightail it to England. They ultimately arrive back in their Dallas home city and are reunited with their families, just when the revolution is at its craziest. Perot spent a personal fortune in this successful rescue and in my eyes, he’s a true hero. And think about it — when Jimmy Carter tried to rescue the embassy hostages later in 1979, he should have called on Perot and his team led by Simons. Instead, failure and international humiliation.
This book was one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read. The poor reviews complained about too much detail. Well, I appreciated the detail. It made it seem all the more problematic in the rescue effort, and thus even more incredible that it was accomplished. This book was written in 1983, and Simons is dead now, and I have no idea what’s happened to the others in this book, but I didn’t take Perot seriously when he ran for president. I sure would now. What a leader! I loved Bill Clinton and have no regrets in voting for him, but who knows where we might be if Perot had led America? This is a stunning book to read and I give it my highest recommendation.