As the U.S. today marked the 36th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis, thousands in Tehran celebrated the occasion by chanting, “Death to America.”

Don Cooke was one of 52 Americans taken captive at the U.S. embassy in 1979.

He sat down with Jenna Lee on "Happening Now" to discuss whether American officials had seen the seizure coming, and why, after everything, he has continued to stay in foreign service.


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Before the takeover, the Iranian government had warned U.S. officials that their protection couldn’t be guaranteed, said Cooke, who was 24 at the time.

“We had certainly expressed our reservations about being there,” he continued. “There was a feeling that somehow Iran was so strategically important that it was worth the risk of our being there.”

Cooke said that in his view, a smarter approach may have been to downsize the embassy.

At “a full city block,” the building “was an obvious irritant to the Iranian people on the revolutionary side and to the Iranian government,” he said.

After 444 days in captivity, Cooke was one of the last to walk free.

Why, in spite of it all, did he continue to serve for more than 30 years?

“It really is a great career,” he said, smiling. “Being a foreign service officer and doing this work was something that if I were independently wealthy, I would pay money to do it.”


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