A documentary film premiering this weekend focuses on a moment in history when a Valdosta native played a tragic part.
“Desert One,” directed by two-time Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple, examines Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt by U.S. special forces to rescue American hostages held captive in the American Embassy in Iran in 1979.
A revolution had put the fervently anti-American Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in power, and a group of college students backing the Ayatollah took over the embassy on Nov. 4, holding 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage.
After a standoff that lasted months, President Jimmy Carter ordered a military rescue mission. On April 24, 1980, a helicopter strike force backed up by refueling and transport aircraft took off from an aircraft carrier on one of the first missions for Delta Force, the U.S.’ newly minted special operations team. “Desert One” was the code name for a landing spot in the desert intended as a staging area.
A combination of factors, including bad weather and mechanical failures, resulted in the mission being aborted. As the U.S. forces were pulling out, a helicopter and a transport plane collided, killing eight men.
Among the eight was Air Force Capt. Lyn McIntosh, 33, a former teacher-turned-pilot whose home base was Moody Air Force Base but he worked out of Hurlburt Field in Florida with the 8th Special Operations Squadron, the “Black Birds.”
McIntosh taught junior high school mathematics in Valdosta in the late 1960s. He left behind a wife, Ann, and three sons, Scott, Mark and Stewart.
The hostages were not released until 1981, after spending 444 days in captivity. Carter blamed the Iranian situation, in part, for his reelection failure.
The eight men who died in Operation Eagle Claw were not forgotten. A memorial to them was erected in Arlington National Cemetery. Ceremonies have been held in their honor at Hurlburt Field through the years.
A memorial to McIntosh was built in Valdosta near Mathis City Auditorium, complete with an F-86 fighter jet (the jet was later moved to Moody AFB). Congress officially renamed the post office on Inner Perimeter Road after him. McIntosh was buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery.
Kopple said the documentary’s origins were with television’s History Channel, which commissioned the project.
“The story of (the rescue attempt) hasn’t gotten it’\s due … these were selfless people,” she said. “This is a story of heroism and of the root of U.S.-Iranian problems.”
The documentary interviews many people involved in the rescue attempt, including military members, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale, family members of the rescuers who died and even Iranians who took part in the embassy siege.
Kopple said the producers relied on two Iranian women inside the country to conduct those interviews for them.
Among the family members who were interviewed was McIntosh’s son, Scott, now a teacher.
Filmmakers spent eight days in Valdosta, producer Eric Forman said.
“Everyone was wonderful, super friendly,” he said.
The movie, produced by Cabin Creek Films, was expected to open in 85 arthouse cinemas around the country, Forman said. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 14 of the cinemas were expected to offer actual in-person screenings; the rest were going to offer online viewing behind a paywall with the help of the film’s distributor, Greenwich Entertainment, he said.
“Desert One” has already been screened at several film festivals, including the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, Forman said.
After the screenings at the arthouse cinemas, the documentary will make its way to television on History, Kopple said. Starting Sept. 4, “Desert One” can be viewed online by rental at iTunes and Amazon, Forman said.
More information about the film can be found at the website www.desertonemovie.com.
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