American Marine held hostage in Iran accepts Hannibal Jaycees’ donation for Folds of Honor

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From left, Brant Dooley of Hannibal Jaycees, Rocky Sickmann of Folds of Honor and Michael Riesenbeck from Golden Eagle Distributing hold up a check presented to Sickmann at the Mark Twain Museum on Tuesday, Nov. 21, for Folds of Honor donated by the Hannibal Jaycees and Golden Eagle Distributing. | Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, MO. — Rocky Sickmann recently recalled a holiday season in Iran when he was blindfolded, tied to a chair and dreaming of his mother’s homemade caramel rolls with icing back home in Krakow, Mo.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Rodney “Rocky” Sickmann was 23 years old on Nov. 4, 1979, when he was one of 52 Americans taken hostage for 444 days, after Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran where he was a Marine guard.

For the first 37 days, the revolutionaries only allowed Sickmann to speak when interrogated. His arms and feet were tied to a chair during the day. He slept at night on the floor with his hands handcuffed to his ankles. 

“I made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then January came around, and they put myself and two other individuals into a room about the size of the restroom,” he said. “We went outside seven times — a total of 15 minutes — in 444 days. We don’t even treat our war prisoners like that.”

Sickmann’s blindfold was ripped from his eyes on Jan. 20, 1981, the same day of President Ronald Reagon’s inauguration. He saw an airplane glistening in the sun, ready to take him and 51 other hostages home.

As the hostages walked to their freedom, a group behind them chanted, “Death to America.”

Sickmann shared his story last week at the Mark Twain Museum when the Hannibal Jaycees and Golden Eagle Distributing presented a check for $1,240 on behalf of Folds of Honor, an organization that provides scholarships to children and spouses of fallen and disabled military and emergency responders.

Folds of Honor has given out more than $240 million in scholarships to more than 51,000 recipients since 2007.

Sickmann recalled a day that eventually led to his passion for Folds of Honor. 

“All the hostages were in the American Embassy the morning of April 25, and by that evening, all the hostages were scattered throughout the city, the country of Iran,” he said. “Everywhere we drove, we were blindfolded and handcuffed with a blanket over top.”

After their release about nine months later, the hostages became aware of a failed rescue mission in 1980 known as Operation Eagle Claw. It was launched on April 24, 1980, and aborted the next day after eight men died on the mission.

Sickmann never forgot those men. 

After he was released, Sickmann had a long career as director of military sales for Budweiser. He learned about Folds of Honor and connected the company to the organization. He retired in 2016 from Budweiser and began working for Folds of Honor. 

He does it all in memory of those men who lost their lives trying to save him.

“I wake up early each day in memory of those eight individuals. I can’t ever bring them back,” he said. “Never would they be able to go fishing with their sons, go to the father-daughter dance, walk their daughter down the aisle or hold their grandkids. Those individuals lost all that because of me.”

The Hannibal Jaycees have been remembering fallen soldiers since their first car show on Sept. 11, 2021.

The club raised $620 for Folds of Honor during its third annual car show this year.

“When we heard what Folds of Honor does for individuals who lost their parents in battle or became disabled — and even paramedics and first responders and now — it was a no brainer,” Brant Dooley of the Hannibal Jaycees said. “We have several members who are veterans, and this means a lot to them too.”

Golden Eagle Distributing in Hannibal, a local family-owned Anheuser-Busch wholesale distributor, matched the Hannibal Jaycee’s $620 donation. 

Michael Riesenbeck, president of Golden Eagle Distributing, said the company is a supporter of the Folds of Honor mission and in educating communities about what they do. 

“Budweiser has an affiliation with Folds of Honor with their military background, and when we heard that Brant and the Jaycees wanted to donate to Folds of Honor, we decided to match that,” Riesenbeck said. “We just know that there’s a lot of education and background for Folds of Honor that we would like to educate the public on.  A lot of the awareness is just letting people know that if they have had a family member pass away and they are looking to send their child to college, they should apply.”

Visit https://americaninteriors.foldsofhonor.org to learn more about Folds of Honor.

The Hannibal Jaycees has fundraisers throughout the year to fund National Tom Sawyer Days. The group is known for its Warehouse of Nightmares, the annual Chili Cook-off, Wing Ding and holiday parades. It also raises money for national charities such as Folds of Honor and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Applications are accepted until Nov. 30 for the Jaycees’ annual Adopt-a-Family event that connects the community with families in need for Christmas. 

Visit www.hannibaljaycees.org to learn more about Adopt-A-Family and the Hannibal Jaycees.

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