Norwich University logo

Arsalan M. Namdar '80

Sullivan Museum and History Center, Norwich University


Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

Arsalan M. Namdar, Oral History Interview

April 2, 2015

Interviewed by Sarah Yahm

Sarah Yahm: OK. So, I'm going to turn this recorder on. Let me just check one thing. Ah, that's number one. So, you're number one. OK. So, this will probably take about an hour. Do you have about an hour?


SY: OK. Excellent. And I'm really just looking for your stories. Your stories, and your life history, and things you remember. And so I thought I'd start from the beginning. So, if you could just introduce yourself, and say your full name and where you were born.

AN: Arsi Namdar. And actually my full name is Arsalan Namdar, and I was born in the city of Abadan, which is a-- southwest of Iran. At the age of seven I was-- my family moved to Tehran, and left Iran until I was about 18 or 19.

SY: What's your earliest memory? Do you have an earliest memory?

AN: From Iran? I was-- I remember in Tehran, it was a beautiful city then. It was pretty populated. I think we had about four million in population. Right now, I think it's about 16-- 14 or 16 million. And Tehran was always a very big populous, modern city, and always a lot of activity, and nightlife, and day life. It was really amazing. And the closest that I can think of it now is it's something like New York City, and now-- so, I was-- I lived with my family in an apartment. We had-- actually, eight of us living in a three bedroom apartment, and we were raised really-- we were a poor family, and my father was the only bread winner, and my mom was a house-- a homemaker, but it was-- we were a really close family, and we enjoyed being together, and I always-- when I was growing up I was very patriotic in Persian ways, and I loved my mother country, and I wanted to become a writer, so I wrote some novels, and I was pretty good in Persian literature. And then I met-- I was-- I knew this girl who was my neighbor, and we had a four year age difference, and we ended up befriending each other, and so, it ended up being a love relationship. And then for some reason when I was 17 or 18 I-- we had a falling out, and so, I don't-- I didn't tell her that I was going to join the navy. So, I joined the navy, and Imperial Navy, and so, then they shipped us out after a year, and sent us to the US. So, that was the end of my stay in Iran, and my memory from those days.

SY: Did you get to say goodbye to her, or--

AN: Never did. (laughter)

SY: You never did?

AN: Yeah. So--

SY: You ever had contact with her since?

AN: Yes. I did. This is probably-- I know that she's still-- she's doing very well, and so I know that she's been married twice. And she's got two daughters-- well, two daughters and one son. So, I think she's doing well. (laughter)

SY: So, what made you decide to join the navy?

AN: I was-- actually, I wanted to dis-- my basic reason was that I just wanted to get away from that environment, and I wanted to--

SY: Because you were heartbroken, or because you wanted to get out of poverty?

AN: I really-- I think I was heartbroken, and I just-- I'm the kind of person that I need to-- I feel like there are times where you need to make a physical change, environmental change, in order to really put yourself in a new situation, new atmosphere and environment. And that really does a lot of good for you. So, I went and applied for-- back then the Shah of Iran was very close to the US. He was one of the greatest US allies, and they had just begun sending-- recruiting a lot of young folks-- young men-- to become pilots, and to go to pilot schools, and to join the navy. And because the navy was-- the Shah's one of-- he wanted to be a super power in the region, so he wanted to strengthen the navy, and air force in particular, and so I went and applied for a pilot job, and went through all the tests and everything, and I was rejected because I didn't have the good depth perception. So, I was really disappointed, and so, then I said, "What's the next thing I can do?" So, I went and applied for helicopter pilot position, and I was accepted. And so I passed the test, and went home, and told my mother, and she just went crazy. She said, "You know how many people are getting killed as pilots?" And this was for the navy pilots, and as a navy helicopter pilot. And so she cried day and night, and she was just really upset, and so I decided-- I said, "Well, what's the next safest thing I can do? So, I said, "Well, I'll go join the navy as a midshipman, and become a navy officer." So, I went in and applied for that program, and I was accepted. And after some physical tests and background checks and everything, then we officially entered the rank of midshipman in Iran, and my particular crew was there for about a year before we were given the opportunity to come to the US. So--

SY: And you were-- because you said you wrote a lot-- so, I imagine that you had wanted to go to college and get more of an education.

AN: Yes, I did. And going to college in Iran is pretty-- you have to really earn-- really have to be good at what you do. And in terms of academics. And I was-- I wasn't really the best student, and I wasn't the worst student. I was somewhere in the middle, and I don't think I had the aspiration to become a college student or to graduate from college. I really felt that because of what I wrote, I felt like I had-- I wrote very well, and I was a well-read person as well. And so I did-- back then I read a lot of Persian novels, and a lot of American, European, Russian novels, so that's what really-- I spent a lot of time on doing that kind of educating myself. So, I really never planned on being-- going to college, because I thought that I probably wouldn't be able to enter college. So, I never applied for national tests, and they call it the Concour, which is-- it's just a national test that everybody goes and takes it, and depending on the level of-- the score you get, then you can become eligible for certain universities. So, when this opportunity came in the navy, and I thought, "I can go do the two year of service in the armed forces." Everybody who graduated from high school, they had to serve two years in the military. That was a mandatory thing. And so, either do that, or just join the navy, because I thought the navy is pretty sophisticated, I saw the outfits they wore, all the uniforms were all really chic, and they got to go Europe and the US, and I thought, "Oh, that's really not a bad thing. It's great." So, that was one of the main attractions to the navy, and so I was glad to be able to join, but at first like any military training it's pretty hard. You don't get all the glory and everything. Glory comes later on when you become somebody or you accomplish something much more-- later in your life.

SY: What was the military training like in Iran?

AN: It was pretty tough. It was pretty brutal, and they-- we had-- basically as a military student you really had no rights. They just told you what you had to do, and then you did it. And the punishments were pretty severe sometimes. I remember once or twice I didn't march the right way, and they made us put little pebbles-- stones in your boots, and then you had to march like that. So, it was kind of like a torture. And so, when we came here to the US, and we started at Norwich, Rook Week here was pretty-- it was piece of cake, because it was always push-ups, and sit-ups, and running, and they really were nothing to us because--

SY: (sneezes)

AN: Bless you.

SY: Sorry. It was-- you said it was nothing to you?

AN: Nothing really. It wasn't that big a deal, so as a result we-- at first-- the first few weeks we kind of goofed off, so that really made our classmates pretty upset because we weren't taking this seriously, but we had already been through all of that.

SY: And I think both Bizhan and Sussan mentioned hating having these, because you guys have been in-- you were really in the navy for two years, and then there were these kids shouting in your faces.

AN: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And in hindsight, I really think-- when you think about it, I think it was pretty silly. And you're pretty-- at least on average, we were two to three years older-- or maybe even older-- than some of these newcomers, so we felt like we had experienced more of life than these kids who had just graduated high school. And in a way we had done it, because we were away from our parents-- when I was 17, 18, I joined the navy, and they shipped us off to some center to be trained in it, so it was-- for us, we were used to that kind of environment. To being alone, being independent. And then they sent us here to the US, and they sent us to the Citadel, a group of us-- the second group with Bizhan-- I think Bizhan was on it, too. They sent us to the Citadel, and that's the military college in Charleston. And so, we had first a three month training there, and then of course they would let us do some weekends, and we just partied, because young guys, and being in the navy, and Charleston being a navy town, it was just always fun. And so, that was-- so, we were used to a lot harder times than-- when we came here, that military life in the beginning was not as hard. But over time, it got really hard, because of we didn't get recognized Rook Week, our group, the Rooks, didn't get recognized, I think, until February, and that was pretty, pretty long, and it was torturous in a way, and being cold, and all that stuff. It just wasn't really pleasant.

SY: Did you-- and I think Bizhan also said that in Irani military training you don't get shouted at in the same way, is that true?

AN: Well, he-- actually, Bizhan actually went to a longer training than I did. He served his-- part of his two year mandatory training, and then he came back, joined the navy. I didn't go to that first mandatory training. But in Iran, I mean, punishments are not-- they really mean it when they punish you, and you can't say one country's better than the other-- I've seen the marines, and how they train them, the special forces, and the-- here, and I just feel like that-- those are pretty vigorous, too. And we were just-- we were not special forces. We were just navy. Just simple navy midshipmen. And-- but what he was referring to was that the part of the navy that sent us-- that one year, we-- I guess the focus was for us just to learn English. Nothing else. We did some marching, and some military stuff. But, it wasn't like 24 hour doing all hardcore military stuff. That didn't happen until later on in the process.

SY: Interesting. So, what was your first impression of Norwich?

AN: Norwich? (laughter) So, as I said to you, the first group of us-- they sent us to the Citadel, and it was pretty-- it was a pretty hard school, and it was in the South, and beautiful weather, and it was summertime, and it just really felt for me close to Iran than any other place. So, when we-- at some point, I guess, they lined us up, and-- a group of us-- our commanders came and said, "You go to Norwich, you go to Citadel, you go to Jacksonville, you go to this, you go to Maritime Academy." And I ended up being assigned to Norwich. And I thought, "My God, what is Norwich? It's so old. Norwich is near the capitol of Vermont." Oh, okay. Capital of Vermont. This is really great. I looked on a map, and I couldn't find Vermont. And they said, "Oh, it's near New York City." And so-- and you have to just put this into perspective. We didn't have Google, we didn't have iPhones, anything easy to use. So, maps, and just simply asking people about things. So, we came-- they said, "Oh, you're going to Norwich." Okay, Norwich. It's near the capitol. It's great, it's good. It's going to be like the Citadel, and like Tehran, it's going to be good. It's great. So, the last night we all went to disco, and we all had fun, and it was a great time, and the next morning we all had to get up, and they shipped us to Norwich. And we got off the plane in Burlington International Airport. Look at it, and said, "Burlington International Airport?" We saw maybe one or two planes. And again, you have to understand, we came from a very populated area, and we went to Europe, we-- bigger cities, and we came here to the US, and saw Vermont. Saw only one, maybe another plane. Two planes. So, and they have one of those ladders that in the middle of the runway you all have to get off. Here we are, we all have-- it was in August, we all had jackets, suit jackets and ties, and are coming down the plane, and I look, and I look, "Oh my God." In the distance I see two or three yellow buses, and just all of a sudden all of us have a heart attack. My God, what are these? I've never seen these. What kind of buses are these? So, anyway, they put us on these buses, and just, clunk, clunk, clunk, the buses are driving, and they're-- we go passed all these farms. For the first time I see cows. And I'm looking, "Oh my God, so many cows. More than humans here." And so, anyway, that was the end of our journey. They brought us here to Norwich, and although it was a gorgeous, gorgeous campus, for us,-- that's something I didn't expect. I expected more of a city, a lot of action, a lot of fun and stuff. Came to Norwich, and they assigned a room to me and one of my friends. I think it was in Dodge Hall, and so, we looked at each other, he was my maybe classmates, and looked at each other, and I said, "Oh my God. What did we get ourselves into?" And so, that next morning the two of us took a bus to Boston, and we stayed there for two weeks, because our vacation-- we had two weeks of vacation-- two or three weeks of vacation before we had to go back. So, that was my first experience in Norwich, and I tell you, that was-- from my perspective, that was the most depressing day of my life. And of course that changed later. And when we got to love the institution, and all the memories that it brought for us, and all the good times and bad times that we had here. Friends we had, Americans and Iranians, and the friends that really to this day I'm still good-- many of them are friends with. Even the Americans as well as Iranians.

SY: Can we pause for one second because I can hear the vacuum, and it's showing up on the tape.

AN: Oh, it does?

SY: Yeah. The microphone's really sensitive, so it picks up things-- because I can barely hear the vacuum, but it audible. Okay. So, yeah. So, what were your encounters like with other students?

AN: So, when we came to Norwich, and really the administration was very supportive, and they were really great to us. In particular, I had a professor by the name of Professor [Larsen?]. Fred Larsen. He was a professor of Geology, and I think he retired a few years ago. A couple few years ago. And he and his family really took myself and another friend of mine-- the guy I went to Boston with-- under their wings, and they invited us to the house, and really tried to make us feel good about our stay here. And of course this is August, and August going to September, and the leaves start to fall and changes, fall, it's not-- it's pretty, but then it's cold. And so, when fall started, and with Rook Week and everything, that was, I think, the toughest for us, because they queued us up with an American classmates, and so, we were all together for years and years, and all of a sudden they said you room with these guys. And I had a wonderful roommates who was a very nice guy, and so I got to know him and like him and everything else. But it was pretty hard because we couldn't really-- of course, we didn't have radio-- again, this is back 30 something years ago. No radio, no iPhones, no TVs-- no cable TVs, no internet, no nothing. So, we really had to interact with each other in certain ways that, for me, it was tough at that point, because I just-- I had to really rely on my English a lot. It just-- it wasn't the same as spending time with friends. And-- well, initially, there was some fights between the Americans and the Iranians over different things. The most obvious one was that the navy used to give us a full salary, and that full salary-- we went-- all bought Trans AMs, Firebirds, Mustangs, Corvettes, and so we see all these first years students driving these expensive cars, and that really is not-- thinking back on it, it just doesn't really sit well. Like, people who just came here and have really nothing, even though they came-- most of them came from most prominent families, and are richer. But you just didn't have anything at that point, and so we were just driving around recklessly and having fun. Again, because we were in some ways, we were a lot older than them, and for us, we felt like we had experienced a lot of different ups and downs back home and different states. So, just for us, that was a normal thing. So, initially we had some issues, some fights, the Iranians and the Americans, and the way we dressed, that was-- and of course, we were all young guys, more mature, there were no girls left here in the Northfield area, or the Burlington area that we could date, or we could go out with, so I think that was a natural tendency for them to dislike us.

SY: So, there are these pimply faced American kids, and you guys have sophisticated clothing. You're urban and cosmopolitan.

AN: I mean, seriously, we had-- we all had really tailored outfits, and nice cars. We drove everywhere. We didn't really-- we didn't have cabs, we didn't have bikes, or we didn't walk. Everybody drove everywhere. And so, that naturally caused some frictions, and some frictions between us and them. But, in later years I think when they became friends, my friends, Americans and Iranians really became friends based on the values, not based on cars and things like that. They learned to like us for some of the things we offered, and we liked them for some of the things they offered. Mostly friendship and being really decent to us. And of course, you can always find some prejudiced rednecks out there who-- they don't like you for whatever reasons. Just because you don't look like them. And that's not a low rank. That's a high rank. It just happens from-- at every level. But we had some people that were really nice to us, and they really had-- they respected us, and as a result to this day we still respect them. I mean, one example is [Keith Barrette?]. He was our classmate, and he's still around. Actually, he's still around. He's very involved in Norwich. He was one of the nicest guys. To this day, we all really like him. We all love him, and respect him, and we are happy that he was part of our history, and part of our life back then, and then we still have the ability to be friends and meet with him from time to time. But I think for me, the most painful thing was they gave us-- my room was in the back of India Company, alumni, and it was-- I think it was on the second floor, or third floor, and it faced-- there was pine trees. And seriously, every time I looked at them I felt like I was in a prison camp. And that was really the most depressing thing for me. And that didn't feel good. And coming back to the same hall after the same building after like 20-some years a few years ago, I just saw the difference. I mean, I was just flabbergasted. How-- so much difference and so much improvement. Kids nowadays have so many things that students-- cadets-- they just don't value. I mean, we used to march to the campus to the dining hall, and we had only one choice of meal. They would bring it to us, and most of us didn't eat pork, and so American friends, they were all waiting for us. As soon as we sat down, and we knew that, too, we never paid attention to it. So, as soon as they saw us sit down, they would say-- they would come to us and ask for our portions, and we would give it to them because we just-- it just-- we didn't eat pork. And of course I eat everything now, you just had to get used to it.

SY: Well, I mean, culturally-- so, Commander [Arumi?], I was reading in the archives, he actually tried to intervene and explain to the administration about pork. Do you remember that?

AN: Yes I do. And actually, he was a very sweet guy. He and his wife were very helpful to the Iranian guys, and she would cook for us every Friday. Persian meals, and they were delicious. I mean, I don't know if you've ever had (inaudible) [00:24:28]--

SY: So good.

AN: -- they just-- and so, she was cooking for us, we know where they would go. And people-- Friday night a whole bunch of guys, they're not going to go to somebody older than them, to their house, and sit down and talk about this. They want to go party. So, our story with Diamond Hall was-- I just wanted to pick up with that-- that was our story. They would come and the days that they had pork or ham or anything like that, you just would-- most of us would give up our dish, and our meal, and just-- everybody would walk to the-- there was a cafeteria down here that Officer Burger used to-- that was our favorite. Officer Burger and then go play foosball. And that's what we did most of the time.

SY: What did you say? What type of burger?

AN: Officer Burger.

SY: Officer Burger. What was that?

AN: It was just a hamburger with a whole bunch of condiments on it.

SY: So, there was something to eat if you couldn't eat in the dining hall.

AN: We could not the first few months. The first year we weren't allowed. I think you either had to be recognized or upperclassmen.

SY: So, did you go hungry a lot?

AN: Sometimes we did, yeah. Sometimes we did. Yeah. And, you know, vending machines weren't available a lot then. And so-- and of course lot of us were used to that kind, we just-- it didn't matter if you had to have lunch or breakfast or whatever, because we were used to the kind of life that we could go like two meals without eating anything, and then go out at night just have a hamburger or hot dog or some-- not hot dog, just hamburger or something like that in Burlington. That's why a lot of us were very, very skinny. I'm 175 pounds now, but back then I was-- when I was at Norwich I was 124 pounds. And most of my friends, if you looked at them, they were very, very skinny. Not because they were malnutrition, just because we just-- that wasn't a priority to us. Priority was everything else. And everybody smoked too, so that suppresses your appetite as well.

SY: Were you frustrated or angry that Norwich didn't seem to understand that culturally pork was not cool?

AN: No. That didn't really bother me, and I really think that Norwich did a lot to help us. I really-- I always appreciated their administration, and this has been really a great school in terms of being open and supportive, and I really think after all these years-- still 35 years or so, they have not changed, and they have even gotten better. And I personally never felt that way, and what I felt was that there were cultural differences, and that's because it just-- it was what it was, and it didn't really bother me. It wasn't like I would go out and say, "Oh my God these Americans are going to beat me up and kill me," or anything like that. You would make fun of them, and they would make fun of us. They would make fun of us for whatever. The way we dressed, the cars we drove. Sometimes you show up at regi balls, with girls that were not from around here who all were decked out. And we would make fun of them for doing some stupid things. We had a guy-- a football player-- who would get angry from time to time, pick up the soda machine, and just shake it up. To us, it was a funny thing. And so, the years I was here I really felt like it was one of the best experiences of my life. I mean, I think Norwich taught me a lot in terms of quality and integrity, and really experiencing life, and trying hard, and just trying to work with others and be friendly. I learned a lot of that here. So, just because it was really encouraged by administration.

SY: Did your kind of political understanding of the world change? You grew up under the Shah, not the most open of regimes. Not-- I mean, and then you came to Norwich. Did you ever get to go to a town meeting? Did you sort of understand the different political system? How did you sort of understand the political differences?

AN: We didn't actually-- I didn't go to any town meetings, but I basically-- we read a lot of newspapers, and sometimes from the TV, and watching TV, and we were really political in terms of American policies, we actually couldn't be. We were under the Shah, and we couldn't have any political affiliation. Only to the Shah. It wasn't until the year I got married to my American wife in secret-- that was my last year here-- that I felt like I was open to that, the idea of, "Oh, this is politics, and this is how this country is run." And by the way, I loved it. This is the greatest country. And I still do. This is the greatest country. No matter what your opinions are. And to a large degree you have freedom, and your freedom to do things and say things, and so I really-- I was really fascinated by it. And I am now. It just is great. And I don't really think many countries are like this, and that's what makes the United States a unique country in itself. And--

SY: What was it like growing up under the Shah? In terms of-- did you experience repression or not? Were your family loyalists? How did that work?

AN: So, under the Shah, we had to-- if we agreed with the Shah and did not say anything against his regime, you could actually do okay. And I'm not saying well okay meaning you could become a millionaire. You could just have a normal life, and--

SY: Under the radar.

AN: Under the radar. But he just-- exactly. He didn't want people to say things about him and about the regime. And that was really rightly controlled. And so they had this secret police called the SAVAK [Sāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar, Organization of Intelligence and National Security]. That-- they were times where people would be really-- and they would use that as a scare tactic. Really, if you say something that they didn't like, they could technically go after you and your family members, and really create some problems for you. There is no difference between then and now with what happens in Iran. You can't do the same thing in Iran either. This time the difference is they can't say that against the regime of Ayatollah, Khomeini, or his successors. So, to me, it's a lot more oppressed now than it was then. It just-- the Shah-- the thing I like about the Shah was he was very modernized. He was a great ally of the US, and unfortunately he wasn't supported when he was facing the Mullahs. When the Mullahs were taking over Iran, and that was his demise. And to this day I think everyone is realizing that they lost-- I mean, look at the Middle East. There's really no one that is our ally here. There's really no one. And the Shah was undoubtedly the biggest supporter of the US and US ally. So--

SY: Was there talk of the 1935 coup-- right?

AN: Right. Yeah. The coup d'état, right.

SY: -- the overthrow. Was that something that was talked about when you were in Iran?

AN: I think it was in 1953, or--

SY: Oh, sorry, it was '53. I was totally wrong. It was later.

AN: I think it was 1953. But, no. My father, when I was in Iran, would mention it, and he would say to me, "These people, these religious factors, who come here and say death to the Shah and whatever." He said-- he used to tell me they don't understand what the regime was like under-- before the Shah took over because it was a kind of religious dynasty. And so he would always-- was in disagreement with people who were against the Shah. And back then when I came here to the US, obviously I had to pass all sorts of background checks. They wouldn't let us into the navy unless we were completely clean. Not only us, but our families, and a good extension of our families. So, when I came to the US and things started to get bad last year of college year, then I could see that-- what was happening in Iran. I just-- people who were all against the Shah, all of those people who were against the Shah, they were moving towards all the religious factors, and for a time-- a very brief time-- things happened to be-- they appeared to be OK. And as we all know, they went the other way, and went to the other end of the spectrum, and it's really-- I don't think it's any good at all in terms of the economics, social, and any other way you look at Iran.

SY: So, do you remember hearing about the revolution while you were here?

AN: Iranian Revolution? You're talking about the--

SY: I'm sorry. I'm talking about the overthrow of the Shah.

AN: Overthrow of the Shah.

SY: Do you remember hearing about that?

AN: Oh yeah. I did. Because my family were also affected by it. My brothers-- two of them-- were arrested by Khomeini's regime, and because they-- I think the crime was that they were trying to spread propaganda against the regime. One of my brothers was jailed for seven years, and the other one was jailed for a couple years, he had been tortured. And then my other sister, who was also arrested, and so, eventually escaped Iran all three of them. And they are living in Europe, and one in the US. So, the regime went after a lot of people for no reason at all. It just, as I said, it wasn't any better than the Shah. And the Shah was actually giving freedom to people. Women had freedom. Women had freedom to vote. They had a say in their daily life, and work, and society, and anything else. They don't have that now. They just-- man in the king of the castle, and it's more of the-- the regime is a more of an oppressive regime in more ways than people thought or imagined. So--

SY: So, yes. Let's talk about that. So, here you are. Senior year, and you're starting to hear rumblings of what's happening in Iran. So, what filtered down to you from here. What were your--

AN: Only people who would go to Iran for visits. Some of the cadets would go there, and then would come back and say this is really bad. And of course we would read the American media at that point, and we would watch things, and we would know what's going on. And I remember one year we were all-- all of the navy guys-- were gathered here by our commanders, and rented a whole bunch of buses, and they put us all on the bus, and they said, "We're going to Washington to see because the Shah's coming, and we're going to be supportive of the Shah." So they had all of us military students on one side, then they had all the civilians on the other. Some Iranians were against the Shah, so at some point a fight broke out, and it was really nasty. It just-- they ran after us. We didn't have anything to defend ourselves with. These anti-Shahs had everything in their position, so--

SY: You guys had no idea that--

AN: No, no idea--

SY: -- you were going into that?

AN: -- they didn't tell us. No. They just said to support the Shah.

SY: And so how do you think-- do you think that-- how do you think you ended up there? What was the conversation between the Norwich administration and the Iranian ambassador? Like, how did that happen?

AN: No, they just-- they could just say-- because technically we were their-- Iranian government's possessions. Norwich really had no say in it because we weren't American. We were all Iranian and had Iranian passports. So, technically I could just be picked up during the day, in the middle of the night, put on a plane, and be taken back home. And it happened to some of our friends, and it just-- they either had not done well in school, or they said something that was not favorable, so they were shipped back. So, Norwich really didn't have a say in it. They were-- didn't know, because I think the commanders just told them, "They're going on a vacation. We're going to take you on vacation."

SY: So, they didn't even know what you were getting into?

AN: We didn't know that, no. We had no idea until we got to the hotel in D.C., and they said, "Oh, you're going out there, and this is the placards you can have," and said, "Long live the Shah." And it wasn't until later that we saw the other students running after us with sticks and-- sticks with nails on them, and stone, and everything after us, and it just-- it was really nasty.

SY: So, how did it end? Were you terrified?

AN: Oh, we ended up-- someone was-- some got involved in fights, some people got injured, but because we didn't have any-- really any way to defend ourselves, we had casualties in terms of severe beatings, and I don't think anybody got killed, but injuries.

SY: Wow. So, Norwich students got injured.

AN: Oh, yes. They did.

SY: Wow. Do you remember when you came back, did people ask what had happened?

AN: I don't remember to be honest with you, no.

SY: No? And you didn't get injured?

AN: I didn't. Actually, I got beat up, but didn't get injured. It wasn't visible. But every single one of us got a piece of it. So, that was [New York?]-- there in D.C. for two or three days, and that's-- I think it was a good two days, and then--

SY: Did you have to keep going back out?

AN: Oh, yeah. The second-- we went there in like the morning, and the next morning, and the next afternoon. So, it wasn't a onetime event.

SY: And did you-- when you went back out-- did you have weapons of any sort, or know what you were getting into?

AN: The second time we just-- we had-- we brought some bottles and things like that just in case, because you don't want those guys to go after you, you need to defend yourself, so--

SY: And the US police didn't touch it at all?

AN: I think it was such a big crowd. It was thousands. Just imagine. And these police officers on horses-- say, even 20 of them, 30 of them, 100 of them. We're talking about thousands of-- it was just a mob scene, and so really, I think it was out of control. And it was out of control.

SY: And were the Irani students of the Citadel and VMI, did they come up, too?

AN: Oh, everybody. Everybody in the navy, air force, anybody that the navy ordered, and the military ordered-- the Iranian military. We all had to go. We had no choice. We were the agents of the Iranian government.

SY: Yeah. So, you weirdly went into battle in D.C. without any-- without the US knowing or noticing.

AN: I don't know-- I'm sure people knew. I mean, you see group here and a group there. You see the potential for some interaction. It could-- it's possible. But the job wasn't to protect us. The job was to protect people around the White House, and the dignitaries and everything. I mean, there's a mob scene. They're not going to go and worry about individuals like me, they're going to worry about individuals like Heads of State. So--

SY: That makes sense. So, were you starting to get worried in your senior year about stuff that was going on back home?

AN: Actually, I was not senior-- I was junior year here. And it was-- I was really worried at that point. And to be honest with you, I changed my mind about being-- serving under the Shah at that point temporarily. But then I thought about it. If we go to sign allegiance to Ayatollah, then that's something that really wasn't in my dream. So, that's when I got married, said I'm not going back to Iran to serve the Ayatollah. I just really-- this is not what I want to do. My allegiance is not to him. So, that's why I stayed here.

SY: And so you had a secret marriage.

AN: I had a secret marriage--

SY: That worked.

AN: Yeah. I had a secret marriage. And then came back, and told my commander that I was going to go on vacation, and I never came back. And that was Runi, and never said, so--

SY: Where did you guys go? Where'd you have your secret marriage?

AN: We went to my wife's-- she has an aunt-- back then she lived in New York in Glenn's Falls, and my father-in-law-- so we got married on a Saturday, this particular Saturday, December 30th. Then we went to-- he arranged with his sister to have us work-- well, live with them for a few months. Ended up living with them for nine months. In the basement she had a room, I would say 5 by 10, dark, used to be a bar that had some use. So, they gave it to us. It had no toilet, it had-- it was awful. Nine months my wife and I lived there. We had a couch that my father-in-law bought from Sears for 300 dollars, and that was a sofa bed, too. So, that would be the couch, and then open up to sleep in. So, that's where we lived. And that was rough. And I was in the navy. I had never worked in my life. I was being paid a handsome salary a month as a midshipman, and then I had to go find a job, and so my first job was-- I started as a busboy in a hotel nearby. Queensberry Hotel. And I loved it. It was really-- all the waitresses were really good to me. I would help them out-- I was a young guy. I was in my twenties, and they were older than me, and I would be stronger, carrying trays and things like that. And the hotel general manager really took a liking to me, and so he would order-- he and his family lived in one of the rooms-- so he would order food every day and want me to bring him the food. Prepare them and bring them to him. And I had no idea what these American foods were like. What does this mean? What does that mean? So, I had a tough time with that. But every time I went up he gave me a tip, and he wanted me take care of me. Really nice man. And so, then I-- my wife started waitressing at a restaurant nearby, and then so we needed another job, so I went and got another job as a temporary street worker. Basically you help all the digging holes and jackhammer and things like that. And sometimes if I didn't have that I would go into the police department-- it was a city job-- I would go to the police department and help paint the walls, wash the cars, and things like that. So, that was my salary of two dollars and 10 cents an hour. And I was really proud of this, by the way. That was great money. So, that's how we started. I learned a lot from it, and I learned that no matter what you do, it's not what you do, it's how you do it. And I still to this day believe it. And I have a really good job now, but if I have to go lose my job for whatever reason I have to do something else, I can go to sweeping the floors and waxing the floors, but I can guarantee you it's going to be the best looking, cleanest floor you've ever seen in your life. And that's how I did it when I started as my houseman job in a hotel in Burlington. So, I started as a houseman, and within six months I became everybody's supervisor.

SY: Why do you think--

AN: It wasn't because I was a good looking guy and they liked me to be in the front-- it was because I did such a great job. I had-- they had us scheduled to do different tasks, and I did them all, and I did them all perfectly. I waxed the floors. Anybody who-- any issues they had they didn't want to do, I would do it. Any time somebody called in sick, I would go in. The bathrooms-- they have public bathrooms, and on the first floor of the hotel-- and public bathrooms are always very dirty-- I would go in and 10 minutes, I'd clean it up. I mean, that bathroom was spotless. So, people notice that. They see this guy is doing a good job. So, that's how I started-- I got promotion like that.

SY: So, what about-- at this point you had two years of school?

AN: Three years.

SY: Three years of school. And so, what was your major?

AN: Business.

SY: Business. OK. And did you want to-- I imagine you wanted to finish.

AN: Yes.

SY: So, how'd you go back and finish school?

AN: So, I went-- when I got married, I wanted to come back to Norwich. Obviously, I couldn't, because the navy still had a hold of my academics, and they didn't release that until later apparently.

SY: How did they set a hold on your--

AN: Well, they wouldn't-- I-- for whatever reason, I couldn't get my credits here at Norwich. It didn't get released until later. Some years later. So, at that time I had gone to Trinity College in Burlington, and I got my Associates.

SY: So, you had to redo all that.

AN: Part of it, yes. And then I went to-- I went another three of four years, and I went back to Trinity and got my Bachelor's. Well I got it all. My Bachelor's, I had like 12 or-- no, 17 credits I had to take. No, I'm sorry. Seventeen courses I had to take, and I did them all in a year. So, I did day, night, and I had a full time job, and by the way I was cum laude. So, I just-- it just proves that I really wanted to do it then, and I did it. Then, it wasn't until 2005 that Norwich granted 10 of us honorary degrees. And that was, to me, that was my most prized possession aside from my Norwich ring that-- it just really-- I had my other diplomas, but Norwich is bigger, and it's right in the middle of it, and it's a joy and pride for me.

SY: Now did you stay in touch with any of your fellow students? So, did they know that you were going to leave and get married?

AN: No, they didn't' know that until I left. Because you couldn't really trust anybody. I didn't know who was SAVAK, you couldn't-- I didn't-- also I didn't want to create any friction so that my family would get in trouble back home because my father cosigned me, so that if anything would be resolved, so if anything happened to me, and I left the navy, then he would pay all the expenses the navy had already put in my education. And they did. About 20 years later they went after my parents, and they wanted to take possession of the house and their belongings. So, my father called me, and said, "This is what's happening." I asked how much is it, and he said, "This much." And I just wrote a check, and they paid the government, and they were clear. So-- but it was good timing then because inflation was so high that the amount I gave was almost 10 times more than it would have been up-- 10 times less than I would have paid, so it just-- it all worked out.

SY: Yeah. And-- OK. And then did you start-- did you stay in touch with your family at all during that time?

AN: I did, and it was pretty-- we would write letters. Of course, they didn't have (inaudible) [00:48:24] or Tango and things like that-- iPhone, you could talk to each other. So, from time to time we would write letters, and it would be pretty generic. No names, and no insulting the government, things like that. And sometimes I would call, and there are times that somebody-- if you say something-- the monitor on the other end would scold you for saying it, so-- so they would do that, yeah. Because again, maybe my family-- because we had three bro-- three siblings in prison by the Mullahs, and a number of family mem-- relatives who got executed by the government because they were against the government, so...

SY: So, when did you get to see your family again?

AN: I got to see my mom about 15-- 20 years ago. Eighteen years ago, I'm sorry. She came here to visit us, and then I went-- my family and I went to Europe to Holland, a couple-- three years after, and met with my mother and father. And they're still both of them living. My mom is in her 70s, my dad is in his 80s, so--

SY: And are they in Iran, or--

AN: In Iran. Tehran.

SY: In Tehran. And your siblings? When did you get to see them?

AN: My siblings-- last time I saw my brother was about a few years ago. My sister is-- oh my brother, five years ago. I went to see him, and I saw him there.

SY: And it sounds like there's a period of, I don't know, 20 some odd years where you didn't see your family at all.

AN: Yeah, it was. And it was one of the hardest things. And the reason is, I know my wife's family, they're really great. They love me. And really it was good to be accepted and to be part of them. But, you always feel like you don't-- you-- sight of it-- there's something missing, and that is some of the things that have been missing for me and for my kids, because I always wanted to-- I wanted to experience the love from my side of the family, because in Iran it's a lot more personable. I'm not saying-- just, family is-- it's-- family relations are very deep.

SY: And more affectionate, right?

AN: More affectionate, just like-- and they just-- you feel like-- we were talking to one of my friends, talking with how many people go see therapists here in the US, and it just really-- it's hard for people to be talking to each other about-- because no one's got time. In Iran, people don't go to therapists, they have family members. It's really-- it's not unusual to have family members who live with you, so any problems you have you can always-- you always have that support that-- that support network that can always help you out. So, that's one other thing that I wish I had that for my kids, and I wish I had that for myself. I think that would have made me a lot better person in some ways for them, they would have a richer youth, and teenage years. It would be a lot better for them.

SY: Do you speak Farsi with them at all? (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) [00:51:47]

AN: No, I did not. I did initially, but that's one of the regrets. I should have spoken with them. I should have taught them, but I didn't. And actually, when I became a US citizen back three years after I got married. So, that was like '81, '80, '81 or so. Eighty-two. So, I was just-- I was so mad at the Iranian government and all the things they do, I just didn't want to deal with it. Now, the last five, 10 years or so, I've started to pick up on strengthening my Farsi, because I was forgetting it, and I just realized-- I just kind of made myself-- I thought-- I was thinking about, really, because I'm mad at them doesn't mean I don't-- I love that language, and I just-- it's really hard on me. So, I started to really read a lot of Farsi and listen to things, because you forget things, and I try always to see when I say something, how would it translate into Farsi, or the other way around.

SY: Do you still dream in Farsi?

AN: I dream about-- yeah. I do. I mean, especially food involved. (laughter)

SY: That's what I was going to say. You must be homesick for food. What food do you crave that you can't get here?

AN: They have these kebabs, filets, and they also have, we call them barg, which means leaf. But it's just kind of like leaf of meat. Filet. And they skewer it, and it's just unbelievably tasty. And that's served with rice and saffron. And they have this other kebab called koobideh, and that's basically kind of like hamburger, but it's on skewers this long, but it's absolutely the most delicious thing on earth. I mean, all Iranians, you don't find anybody who doesn't love chelo kebab. They call it chelo kebab. So, that's one of the things that-- I mean, the smell of it, the taste of it, it's just out of this world. Seriously.

SY: I believe you. (laughter)

AN: Yeah. It just-- it's just unbelievable. And that's one of the things I miss. And I miss the traditions. I miss the New Year. Persian New Year. It's a big deal in Iran. It was--

SY: It was just last week, or two weeks ago, yeah.

AN: Two weeks ago. Yeah. Twenty-first. And I know it's not a big deal here, but my wife does some prep for it, but it's just-- it's not the same. So, those are the things that you feel like you wish you had. I wish for our governments-- Iranian government and US government to get along, so people--

SY: It looks like they're having--

AN: I hope so--

SY: Fear about what's going on this week, and last week.

AN: Yeah, I'll see it when it's actually executed. I don't know. I don't trust these guys over there.

SY: You'll believe it when you see it.

AN: Yeah. I-- you know what? It would be great if these two countries could get along and people could travel without the fear of getting hurt and kidnapped or whatever.

SY: Bizhan's been back, have you ever gone back?

AN: No, I've not gone back. He actually-- when he resigned, he resigned from the navy. I did not. I just went AWOL, and because of my last name, because my brothers being anti-government, I really don't think I have a chance of going there freely. I would really-- I wish I could, but I don't think so. Unless this government changes.

SY: So, you're going to have to wait for news (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) [00:55:17]--

AN: Yeah, to be honest with you, I don't think in my lifetime that's going to happen. I really don't think it. This is-- traditionally, Iran-- a regime lasts 70 to 100 years. Happened to Shah, it was 75. To these guys, it's only been 35, 40 years. I don't think I'm going to live another 30 years to see that, we'll see.

SY: I don't know, you keep eating those egg white omelets, you might live another 35, 40 years. (laughter)

AN: Yeah, maybe.

SY: Sussan talked about how when she came back, because of the hostage crisis, there's a lot of hostility towards Iranians. Did you experience that?

AN: Yes, I did. Very much so. When-- back in '78, or '79, I was working at this hotel called-- maybe it was '80. The Radisson in Burlington. It's called Hilton now. So, I had an employee he worked for me. His name-- whatever. And he was very anti-Iranian. And it was Iran this, Iran that, swear words, and-- so, he didn't know I was Iranian, and finally when he found out I was Iranian, he just said, "I'm so sorry. I just didn't know you're Iranian, and I've been saying all these things." And I said, "It happens a lot. People don't know." When you talk about Americans are bad, or Iranians are bad, you just think of them in general. But you meet people, and you realize that really is not the case. And the prejudice I faced was not because of me. Once people started talking to me, they said, "Wow, you're not like that." Well, of course. I live in this country. I became a US citizen. I love this country. I'm not-- it's not-- I'm not the enemy. I'm like anybody else. But, my origin is Iranian. Just like you being Italian or being Irish. So, that's the way it is. But yeah. People-- I mean, even after 9/11, just anybody who was dark, it was just-- they were targeted. And then we learned to live with that. We learned to really put that aside. It's gotten a lot better in terms of labeling people and profiling them, I think so. So, I think, once people-- and that's one of the things I love about Americans. Once they get to know you, and-- first of all, I don't think many Americans are, in my experience, many Americans are not really vicious in terms of trying to put somebody down. People are very-- they joke a lot in many ways. People like to be humorous about some things. That's just the way it is. And my experience has been I really haven't had people say, "You. Because of you." And once they get to know me, and say, "Hey, that's the situation. It is what it is."

SY: Yeah. So, after all this, you're-- you feel you-- you arrive in Northfield, you arrive in the boonies, you say, "Oh my God, what is happening to me?" You end up staying in Vermont. Why'd you end up staying in Vermont?

AN: Well, I stayed up in Vermont, the reason is because my wife is a Vermonter, and she wanted to be-- she wanted to live here. I don't really like Vermont weather. I love the people. They're just the sweetest, most friendly, kind people. I just don't like the weather. And really, it's getting to me year after year. Just, I don't like the cold. Today's March-- April. April second. I had to wear a long coat to come out. It's just-- there's got to be an end to this at some point. So, my daughter lives in Florida. Southwest Florida. So, my dream is to move there someday and-- but my wife is not convinced yet. That's the problem. That's the problem.

SY: I don't know. You compromised. You've been here for a long time. Maybe it's your turn, huh?

AN: Yeah. I don't know. We'll see. We'll see. Maybe another five or six years. We'll see.

SY: Yeah. Exactly. I don't know if I have any more questions. I'm just looking through my list. Oh, yeah. So, then years later some of your classmates managed to trickle back in. So, what were those conversations like when you re-met them?

AN: Oh, so coming back from Iran, or just--

SY: Yeah. So, Bizhan makes his way back, Sussan makes her way back. It takes a while though.

AN: It does, yeah. It took a lot. For Bizhan, he almost didn't make it back here. He was stuck in [Bromford?] quite a long time. What really confirmed things for me was that I was right from the beginning that I shouldn't have gone to Iran, because a lot of my friends went, and said-- and they went, and resigned, they almost didn't make it back, and they hated every minute of being in Iran. Even though it's our mother country, just because the regime made it so hard. And it was interesting to hear that people were in the same timeframe as I was in terms of thinking, and so for me it just was kind of a sweet-- it's a pleasurous-- pleasuring-- pleasing thing to hear that I was-- what I felt about Iran, not going to Iran was the right thing, and--

SY: And everybody came back, and you could probably talk freely in a way that you hadn't been able to.

AN: Oh yeah. Yeah. We did. And Bizhan's been to Iran several times. And even the last time that he went he said it was just really tough for him after a week. Said it was really tough. Just because we used to it-- it's a part of our-- we've been here more than half of our lives here in the US than we have been in Iran. So, for us in particular it's really hard. I don't think if I went to Iran, honestly I couldn't last more than a week or two. I seriously couldn't. Because A) the way of life B) all the different-- the environment, the society and--

SY: And the anxiety of whether or not you'd be able to leave.

AN: Right. And that's a thing. And they have a different concept about things. Time is not important at all. So, you could go-- when you invite Iranians over in Iran, you tell them dinner at 8:00. Dinner doesn't mean at 8:00, it means at 8:00 they start preparing the dinner. So, you end up eating dinner at 11:00 sometimes.

SY: I think that's true for every people besides white Anglo-Saxons, you know what I mean? Any other country you go to it's the same.

AN: And it's good to have that time concept. It's good to say, "Look, dinner's at 8:00. Be here at 7:45." Or whatever. I like the way things are more clear here what it is in the US. And people are pretty straightforward about it. In Iran, no. In Iran, say, "Hey, come here for dinner." Yeah, OK. And you can't tell people just come by yourself. You would say you come to my house, meaning you, that means the entire family. The entire family comes. So, it just-- it's nice, in a way, and because everybody is together, and they love guests. That's another thing about our culture. We just love people coming and enjoying our food and being part of our lives.

SY: Yeah. So, what's your job now?

AN: I am the VP or Information Technology and CIO at Visiting Nurse Association in Colchester.

SY: That sounds like a very good job.

AN: It is actually. I started at-- I went up the ranks. And I've been there 21 years. So, I really worked hard at getting here, and they just didn't give it to me because they liked-- they thought they should have somebody like me. I worked hard for it. And I guess you have to prove yourself. Because again, you have in this country, again, you are given an opportunity, I feel like you people should be-- they should use it to the absolute max, and if they don't use it-- and that's why if they don't use it they're putting themselves at a disadvantage, and that's why it's true that it's the land of opportunity. And it's true that if you want to do it you can do it. But you really have to work at it hard, and sometimes you have to work harder just because of who you are. Sometimes-- different times I have to work a lot harder to prove myself because people just look at you and for whatever reason they just think you might not be able to write well, you might not be able to speak well, so those are things that kind of-- they put you-- you're set back, and they don't give you the opportunity.

SY: Did you ever get disheartened during your sort of rise up the ranks?

AN: I did. Like, you get-- against what? My work, or people I work with?

SY: No, just frustrated. I mean, like, yes. This is the American Dream. You can work hard and you can rise up, but there is discrimination, there are barriers, there are different things. It's frustrating.

AN: No, I never did. I seriously I-- again, I always thought this is such a great country. And if I can imagine myself when we had the hostage crisis here in this country, Iranians took those Americans hostage, 52 of them, for 444 days or something like that, and people still here we could live and we could get promotion. We could work hard. I mean, it doesn't happen everywhere, but I feel like I never had any backlash against me because of that. But I can't imagine being in Iran and being an American, and you take Iranians-- Americans take Iranians hostage, and Americans in Iran be treated this well. And again, this is one of the greatest things about the United States, because that is-- that's what makes us such a great nation. And that's what makes us so special. I mean, every day when I talk to these young people, I say to them, "You have this opportunity in this country, you have such a great country here, you have to realize it. Don't say US this, and US that, address it in a negative way. You haven't been to the other side to see what it is to live in this great country." And just have to-- you just have to cherish that, and appreciate it, and you have this opportunity, you're part of this nation.

SY: Yeah. One last question. How did you meet your wife?

AN: Well, actually, I was-- we were going to a disco called Friends in Burlington, and I had a girlfriend here one-- actually, I had a live in girlfriend here, and I had a fight with her one night, and just went to disco with my friends. My male friends. So, my wife saw me at the-- standing there by the cigarette machine, because they had cigarette machines inside, and she asked me to dance, and we danced for three hours. And so, that's-- I think I told her I fell in love with her that night, and she said, "Oh, [I can't hear?]?" I said, "I loved you from the minute I saw you." So that's--

SY: And now that's 30--

AN: Thirty six years we've been married. Yeah. Yeah. So, like any marriage, there's just like anything. You'll have ups and downs, but more ups. I really think that. More positive stuff than.

SY: Absolutely. So, any last thoughts?

AN: Last thought is I hope someday my kids will be able to listen to all these stories from Iranian guys, and Norwich cadets, and I hope they should-- that they have an opportunity to come back and listen to some of these.

SY: Well, actually you're going to get a copy of this, and pretty soon the interviews I did with Bizhan and Sussan will be available online. So, that wish will be able to be granted very quickly and concretely.

AN: Yeah? Great.

SY: So, I'll send you-- I'll send you-- [01:07:09]