On This Day In Minnesota History: Rocky And Bullwinkle Are Arrested In Tehran Attempting To Free Iranian Hostages

Photo by michael szpakowski

On today’s date in 1980, beloved Frostbite Falls, Minnesota residents Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose were captured just outside Tehran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard while attempting to free 52 American hostages being held by Ayatollah Khomeini.

In early December 1979, the Jimmy Carter administration, desperate to end the hostage crisis ahead of the 1980 election cycle, took the unorthodox step of recruiting Rocky and Bullwinkle to undertake a top secret rescue mission. He chose the pair due to their numerous well-documented successes in thwarting notorious Soviet agents’ fiendish schemes.

After much consideration, Rocky and Bullwinkle accepted and planning for what was soon dubbed “‘Operation Fast and Moose’ or ‘Operation Squirrelwind’” began.

“Rocky and Bullwinkle originally intended to fly a hot air balloon into the Caspian Sea and then travel south into Tehran disguised as members of a radical Iranian student group but complications arose when, while planning, Bullwinkle accidentally baked a pie using nitroglycerin instead of nutmeg and the two were shot into space,” wrote Rocky and Bullwinkle biographer Henry Zimmer, “thankfully, a pair of bumbling but lovable Moon Men found them and gave them a lift to Iran in their UFO.”

Many aspects of the dynamic duo’s top secret mission remain classified including whether the two met with sympathetic dissidents inside the country, whether the Soviet Union had a hand in tipping off the Iranians to their presence, and whether the explosive pie Bullwinkle baked was blueberry or boysenberry. What is certain, however, is that the pair was soon captured and taken to the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran.

The two were not seen in public for over three weeks until they appeared in a grainy propaganda video broadcast on Iranian state-run TV, looking haggard and malnourished. Bullwinkle’s signature white gloves were stained with sweat and dirt. The moose extolled the virtues of Khomeinism and praised the Ayatollah for his kind treatment. He then delighted the Iranian public by performing his signature gag of pulling an enormous lion out of a top hat, dedicating the trick to fallen heroes of the Revolution.

“And now here’s something we think you’ll really like,” said an exhausted looking Rocky, “a short cautionary song about what happens to treacherous supporters of the Great Satan!”

Though the US State Department attempted to keep news of their capture secret, images of the video leaked to NBC leading to an outpouring of support across the nation.

Desperate to bring Rocky and Bullwinkle home, in late September, President Carter contracted the services of Nobel prize winning scientist Mr. Hector Peabody and his assistant Sherman. This effort ultimately failed however when the two elected to go back in time to prevent the revolution from happening in the first place but got sidetracked trying to help Abraham Lincoln pick out the right hat. When they eventually did make it to 1953 Iran in time for the coup d’etat that would eventually lead to the 1979 revolution, they were mistaken for Russians and immediately shot dead by Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

After over four months of captivity, Rocky and Bullwinkle were finally released along with the rest of the hostages on January 20th, 1981. They were welcomed home by the Mayor of Frostbite Falls who awarded them with a large medal for their heroism. Of course, it soon turned out the mayor was actually their nemesis Boris Badenov in disguise and the medal was simply a stick of TNT painted gold but the recognition felt good just the same.

“For the rest of their lives, Rocky and Bullwinkle felt regret that they were unable to complete what they set out to do,” wrote historian Jenna Campbell, “but to the American public, their heroism and bravery in the face of daunting odds has never been forgotten.”