The pre-history of the Avenue of 444 Flags goes back at least to 1978 when students and discontented Iranians conducted demonstrations and riots in opposition to the government of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. As the chaos increased, the Shah escaped to Egypt in January, 1979, leaving a vacuum that was eventually filled by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his Revolutionary Council.
On October 22, 1979, the Shah came to the United States for cancer treatment, leading to demands from Iran for his extradition. When that didn’t happen, a student riot outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran led to the storming of the embassy. The entire staff was taken hostage, with the subsequent approval of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Of the 90 hostages, 66 were Americans. Negotiations for their release started immediately, but were unsuccessful. On November 17, the Ayatollah permitted the release of the women and African-American hostage, leaving 53 to continue be mentally and physically abused by their captors. One more hostage was released on July 11, 1980, because of illness, leaving 52 to endure the entire period of captivity. As the crisis dragged on and on, Tom Flynn, owner of Hillcrest Memorial Park in Hermitage, PA, grew tired of seeing the nation’s flag being burned by Iranians on the 6 o’clock news. He believed that it wasn’t a case of a few Americans being imprisoned in Tehran; all of America, he said, was being held hostage. He decided to do something very visible not just to raise awareness of the situation, but also to lift America’s pride, spirit, and hope.
On the 100th day of the crisis, February 11, 1980, with the support of veterans’ organizations and others, 100 flag poles donated by a local steel company were raised along the avenue leading into Hillcrest Memorial Park. Each of them held a casket flag donated by someone whose relative had received a military funeral. They continued to raise another flag every day until January 20, 1981, the 444th day of the crisis.The community faithfully supported emotional services among the flags on the 200th, 300th, and 400th day. The greatest celebration took place on the day the hostages were released. The next issue of Time Magazine – January 26, 1981 – featured a picture of the Avenue’s flag. Although that crisis did finally end, the need to uphold America’s pride, spirit, and hope persists, perhaps today more than ever. That’s why, after more than 18,000 replacement flags have flown there, 444 flags still fly along the Avenue and around the War on Terror Veterans Memorial. They pay tribute to every honorable American service person and veteran; and they remind us that freedom isn’t free. The Avenue is open all year round, 24 hours a day, welcoming visitors from all over the world. The Avenue of 444 Flags is supported by the Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation. Your tax deductible contribution will help maintain this beautiful symbol of freedom far into the future.
After eight Americans lost their lives during an ill-fated rescue attempt on January 25, 1980, citizens from Scranton, PA, raised funds to memorialize these brave men with a permanent monument in the Avenue of 444 Flags. At the base if the Eternal Flame, lit by six former hostages when they came to Hermitage to dedicate the memorial.