War, Revolution, and Two Dogs Almost Left Behind

By Jack Limpert

One of my favorite Washingtonian stories came close to not being published. In 1981 the magazine was growing fast, we all seemed overworked, and sometimes I’d see the stack of unsolicited manuscripts getting too high and ask someone on the staff to send back stories that had no hope of being accepted. One day my assistant, Brenda, was about to mail back a stack of rejections and I said, “Let me take a quick look.”

Among the rejections was a short piece, “My Dog Was an Iranian Hostage.”

The hostage crisis had ended earlier that year. The Iranians had held 52 American diplomats and citizens for 444 days; they were released on January 20, 1981, as President Reagan took the oath of office.

It took about two minutes to read the dog story and call the author, Andrew Sens, a foreign service officer. We bought the story, probably for $100, and slipped it into the January 1982 issue as a front-of-the-book one-page feature.

Why bring it up now?

I recently watched a documentary film, The Last Days of Vietnam; it was an emotional, eye-opening look at how that war ended. The Rory Kennedy film shows the chaos at the American embassy in 1975 as it becomes clear that the North Vietnamese army is overunning Saigon.

Helicopters airlifted American personnel, including journalists, off the embassy roof to U.S. Navy ships in international waters. Several thousand South Vietnamese allies had taken refuge in the embassy and many were airlifted out; about 500, including many women and children, were left behind on the embassy grounds when the last helicopter took off.

Michael Putzel covered the Vietnam war for the AP and has a new book,  The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds of War, about the aftermath of that war. I sent him a note about how much I liked the Rory Kennedy documentary. He responded:

“I thought Kennedy’s history of how we got to the last days was flawed on several counts, but the story of the evacuation itself was amazingly effective. She had film I never knew existed and added tremendously to the drama of those last hours and days.

“Ambassador Graham Martin got what he deserved, but she missed one factoid: His personal secretary, Eva Kim, was married to George McArthur of the Los Angeles Times. When Martin finally capitulated and headed for the chopper, he left his pet dog behind in the embassy. McArthur, who was in the building with Eva waiting to go out with the ambassador on the last flight, spotted the abandoned pet, scooped it up, and held it in his lap until they were safely aboard the ship. I guess Martin got it back, but I’ve never known for sure.”

Who would leave his dog behind? Here’s George McArthur in an oral history describing the evacuation of the embassy:

“Graham Martin’s poodle is tied up in there and I’d learned to like the poodle a little bit, named Nit Noi….That son of a bitch Graham was going to leave Nit Noi there. He denies it, but I knew he was going to leave Nit Noi there. I said do you want me to take the dog out? He said, ‘I’d sure appreciate it.’ So I got Nit Noi on the leash and—I didn’t feel bad about displacing somebody else. I knew that the doctor downstairs had a miniature doxy he had put in his bag and he kept the little miniature doxy doped up all day long because he didn’t know when he was going to have to leave and they didn’t want the dog barking. So the little doxy was sleeping in the bag….Slept right through the evacuation. When we want through the chain and finally got up and aboard our helicopter…I was holding Nit Noi in my lap….They didn’t even see Nit Noi. I mean I could have carried a 105 howitzer on there. People did not see details at that moment. I could have carried your mother-in-law, I could have carried an elephant on there…It was just get aboard that chopper and get out. So taking out the Ambassador’s dog, which caused me grief on the carrier, but that’s something else again.”
Back to “My Dog Was an Iranian Hostage” and the dog named Tom in the January 1982 Washingtonian. You can read the story here.

What happened to Tom after he got home? Here’s how Andrew Sens, who now lives in Washington, D.C., describes the aftermath of the hostage crisis and Tom’s eventual rescue:

“Tom survived his two years in Iran in more than good form thanks to the German wife of an Iranian staff person, a cook, on the Embassy compound. As I explained in the Washingtonian article, the cook’s wife saw Tom tied up somewhere on the compound without water and asked the Embassy’s occupiers if she could take him home.

“As I recall from the letters she sent quite a bit later from Germany, whomever she spoke to allowed her to untie Tom and take him off the compound. She and her husband kept him for some time, about a year, until things get sufficiently severe in Teheran that she and her husband opted to go to Germany, leaving Tom with her Iranian mother-in-law, who by then had become very fond of him.

“When her mother-in-law also felt she needed to leave Teheran, she tried to take Tom with her, even looking into a bus ticket that would have brought her to Turkey with Tom overland. I had shared our German friend’s letters with the State Department’s Iran Working Group, of which I was deputy director, because they gave us some insight into what was happening in Iran at the time. Someone in the Swiss Embassy here in Washington apparently mentioned the letters to a colleague in Bern or perhaps directly in Teheran where the Swiss were representing U.S. interests during the hostage crisis, as they still represent our interests today.

“How or exactly when it happened I do not know but Tom was picked up from his protector in the nick of time as she was very anxious to leave and staying only because she didn’t know what to do with Tom. Then, some weeks after the hostages were released, my wife and I got a note from the Swiss ambassador in Teheran to let us know that Tom was safe and that he would ship him back to us once air links between Iran and the rest of the world were restored. About seven months later we got a cable saying Tom would be arriving on a flight from Zurich to JFK. He arrived just as I described him in the Washingtonian article.

“Tom lived very happily with us for another two years in Washington as I continued on as a member of the Washington team negotiating the crisis aftermath, in the Hague primarily, and then moved with us to Islamabad where he was a very active member of the household—and local community—for nearly four years. Our son Drew was with us for the first year in Islamabad and then in college in the States, though he came home at Christmas and each summer.

“Tom died at the age of sixteen just before the end of our tour in Pakistan. He is fondly remembered and much missed by all three of us to this day.”
Graham Martin died in 1990 at the age of 77 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A career diplomat, he became U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam in 1973 and was the last person to hold that position.

George McArthur died in 2013 at the age of 88 in Fairfax, Virginia.

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