On August 19, 2008, Minnesota native Bruce Laingen visited the History Center to donate his papers and personal artifacts to the Minnesota Historical Society. In November 1979, Laingen was chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the senior American diplomat taken prisoner during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Laingen and 51 of his colleagues were held captive for 444 days, until their release in January 1981.
Born in Watonwan County, near Butterfield, Minnesota, in 1922, Laingen was raised in a modest farm community and enjoyed participating in 4-H events. He graduated from St. Olaf College, joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines during World War II. Laingen studied at the National War College and earned a Masters degree in international relations from the University of Minnesota. He joined the Foreign Service in 1950 and stayed with the agency for 38 years. Laingen was President of the American Academy of Diplomacy from 1991-2006.
Today Laingen resides in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife, Penelope (Penne). Penne originated the yellow ribbon campaign during the hostage crisis. Ribbons are still used to this day to bring attention to issues ranging from support for American combat troops to breast cancer awareness.
The Laingen collection includes personal papers and letters, the suit and tie Laingen wore while in captivity, and an American flag given to him by President Ronald Reagan after his release. The collection will serve as a wonderful resource for any scholar researching 1970s politics, U.S.-Iranian relations, diplomacy, hostage issues, rural Minnesota farm life and World War II in the Philippines. Some of the material will be featured in the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit, scheduled to open at the Minnesota History Center on Memorial Day, 2009.
Molly Tierney, Curator of Manuscripts