THESE ARE THE MEN WHO LOST THEIR LIVES TRYING TO RESCUE AMERICAN HOSTAGES IN IRAN APRIL 25, 1980
Greater Love Hath No Man…
By David Fifer / The Statesman
On the night of April 24, 1980, students at Patrick Henry were doubtless preparing for the prom, preparing for graduation, or perhaps simply preparing for the next days classes. Some 6,000 miles away at a secret location code named Desert One, however, one former PH student was preparing for a mission of a much different sort, a mission to save lives and salvage a nations honor, and define what it truly means to be a Patriot. There was no way for Marine Corps Sgt. John Davis Harvey, Class of 1976, to know he was embarking upon what a survivor would call the most colossal episode of hope, despair, and tragedy I had experienced in nearly three decades of military service.
The events that led to Sgt. Harveys heroic death had taken place the previous winter, as 3,000 Iranian nationalists had stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and taken sixty-six Americans hostage after President Jimmy Carter allowed the deposed Shah of Iran into the United States for medical treatment. After months of humiliation on the world stage and with an election fast approaching, President Carter ordered a rescue operation to bring the hostages home. It was widely understood that the clandestine operation would be fraught with danger. Nevertheless, Harvey, an Avionics specialist, volunteered. While they didnt receive actual confirmation of his participation until the news of his death, Harveys family figured he might be involved because he was training at a site other than his usual North Carolina post. We knew he was training for something special, said his sister, Jaye Harvey. With the situation in Iran, it didnt take a genius to figure out.
The details of what happened that fateful night remain somewhat vague, but this much is known: Out of the eight helicopters assigned to rendezvous at Desert One some 200 miles south of Tehran, three never made it. Factoring in the contingency that another chopper or two might be grounded, it was decided to abort the mission. As the aircraft that had arrived at the landing zone repositioned for takeoff, the rotors of an RH-53D Sea King chopper sliced into the fuselage of an EC-130 Hercules cargo plane carrying CIA operatives. Both burst into flames, trapping Harvey and eight other servicemen in an inferno of jet fuel and mangled aluminum, and that night in the sands of a foreign land, twenty-one year old Harvey left a young wife and daughter behind. Just a guy doing what he was supposed to be doing, reflected his sister.
According to those who knew him, Davis, as he was known, was your typical teenager here at PH. Former teacher Dick Clemmer characterized him as a good kid, fun loving, and good natured. He had a great sense of humor. He was the life of the party, his sister says. When the news of his death broke at school, it brought home the concept of mortality to the students, according to teacher Susan Foard. Kids didnt understand that someone their age could die, she added. A memorial service sponsored by the FCA was held in the auditorium, and a plaque now hangs in the lobby of Clara Black attesting to the bravery and heroism of The Eight Patriots. Daviss brother-in-law Scott Hillman, himself a Patrick Henry Sports Hall-of-famer, set up a track scholarship in his honor, and Senator John Warner and then Lieutenant Governor Chuck Robb came to Roanoke to pay their respects as Harvey was buried in Sherwood Memorial Park.
At a time when young men and women might again be venturing to the salt deserts of the Middle East to protect our way of life, the story of John Davis Harvey should remind us not to take their selflessness for granted. Says his sister, Had he known how short his life would be, I still dont think he would have done a thing different.
The author of this piece, David Fifer, is a features writer at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke, VA, at the time of this writing (FALL 2002)